All posts by Bill Pratt

Commentary on Matthew 1 (Genealogy of Jesus)

The traditional view of the Gospel of Matthew is that it was written by Matthew-Levi, the tax collector and disciple of Jesus, between AD 50-60. Although some scholars believe the Gospel of Matthew was the first Gospel written, a majority believe that it was written after the Gospel of Mark and borrowed heavily from that Gospel.

Michael J. Wilkins, in Matthew, Mark, Luke: Volume One of Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary, explains the purposes of Matthew in writing his Gospel:

It is a book that establishes Jesus’ identity as the Messiah, the heir to the promises of Israel’s throne through King David and to the promises of blessing to all the nations through the patriarch Abraham. Against the backdrop of a world increasingly hostile to Christianity, Matthew solidifies his church’s identity as God’s true people, who transcend ethnic, economic, and religious barriers to find oneness in their adherence to Jesus Messiah. His gospel becomes a manual on discipleship, as Jew and Gentile become disciples of Jesus who learn to obey all he commanded his original disciples.

The Gospel of Matthew chooses a different approach to introducing Jesus. Matthew’s strategy is to demonstrate that Jesus Christ is the rightful heir to Abraham and David. He accomplishes this by providing a genealogy that traces the legal lineage from Abraham to Joseph, Jesus’s legal (but not biological) father. Matthew divides the genealogy into three sections of fourteen generations: Abraham to David, David to Jechoniah, and finally Jechoniah to Jesus.

Scholars have noted that Matthew leaves out several names in the genealogy, effectively creating gaps. Why would Matthew do this? Craig Blomberg, in vol. 22, Matthew, The New American Commentary, explains that the key to the groups of 14 have to do with King David, who is the central figure in the genealogy.

When one adds up the numerical values of the Hebrew consonants in his name (DVD), one arrives at the number fourteen (4+6+4). This gematria, as ancient Hebrew numerical equivalents to words are termed, probably accounts for the centrality of the number fourteen in Matthew’s genealogy. Each of the three sections contains fourteen generations (v. 17), and David’s name itself is the fourteenth entry. The actual number of generations in the three parts to the genealogy are thirteen, fourteen, and thirteen, respectively; but ancient counting often alternated between inclusive and exclusive reckoning. Such variation was thus well within standard literary convention of the day.

How did Matthew construct his genealogy? Blomberg tells us the origins of Matthew’s data:

Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Judah figure prominently in Gen 12–50. The other male names in vv. 2–6a correspond to 1 Chr 2:3–15. Solomon through Josiah (vv. 6b–11) all appear in 1 Chr 3:10–14 (recalling that Azariah is the same individual as Uzziah—cf., e.g., 2 Kgs 15:1–2 with 2 Chr 26:3—and that there are omissions in Matthew’s list). In vv. 12–16 Jeconiah is a variant form of Jehoiachin, who with Shealtiel and Zerubbabel appear in 1 Chr 3:17–19. But there Zerubbabel is a nephew of Shealtiel, which may suggest that the latter died childless and that the line of succession passed to his brother’s family. In Ezra 3:2, Zerubbabel is legally considered a son of Shealtiel. The rest of the names from Abiud to Jacob are unparalleled, but ancient Jews tried scrupulously to preserve their genealogies; so it is not implausible that Matthew had access to sources that have since been lost.

Another interesting aspect of the genealogy is that Matthew mentions five women (Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary), which is unusual in a Jewish genealogy. Why does he do this? With regard to the first four women, Blomberg writes:

Suggestions have included viewing them as examples of sinners Jesus came to save, representative Gentiles to whom the Christian mission would be extended, or women who had illicit marriages and/or illegitimate children. The only factor that clearly applies to all four is that suspicions of illegitimacy surrounded their sexual activity and childbearing. This suspicion of illegitimacy fits perfectly with that which surrounded Mary, which Matthew immediately takes pains to refute (vv. 18–25).

Matthew later explains that Jesus was born of Mary, but that Joseph was not involved in the conception of Jesus. He is his legal father, but not biological father. Blomberg explains that “in fact, the grammar of v. 16 makes clear that Joseph was not the human father of Jesus because the pronoun ‘whom’ is feminine and therefore can refer only to Mary as a human parent of the Christ child.”

Blomberg further explains why Matthew would have been so concerned with including these women in the genealogy when he wrote his Gospel 20-30 years after Jesus’s death and resurrection.

Within the Gospels, Jewish polemic hinted (John 8:48) and in the early centuries of the Christian era explicitly charged that Jesus was an illegitimate child. Matthew here strenuously denies the charge, but he also points out that key members of the messianic genealogy were haunted by similar suspicions (justified in at least the two cases of Tamar and Bathsheba and probably unjustified in the case of Ruth). Such suspicions, nevertheless, did not impugn the spiritual character of the individuals involved. In fact, Jesus comes to save precisely such people. Already here in the genealogy, Jesus is presented as the one who will ignore human labels of legitimacy and illegitimacy to offer his gospel of salvation to all, including the most despised and outcast of society. A question for the church to ask itself in any age is how well it is visibly representing this commitment to reach out to the oppressed and marginalized of society with the good news of salvation in Christ. At the same time, Matthew inherently honors the five women of his genealogy simply by his inclusion of them. So it is not enough merely to minister to the oppressed; we must find ways of exalting them and affirming their immense value in God’s eyes.

Does John 1:1 Say that Jesus is Merely a God, Not the God?

Jehovah’s Witnesses are famous for mistranslating John 1:1. They argue that the verse identifies Jesus as a god rather than as God Himself. Andreas Kostenberger, in The Gospels and Acts (The Holman Apologetics Commentary on the Bible), explains why their translation is incorrect.

Interestingly, around 1950 there was a change in how Jehovah’s Witnesses dealt with this verse. Before 1950, they carried a copy of the American Standard Version of the Bible. However, the problem they faced was that the ASV rendered verse 1 accurately with the phrase ‘the Word was God.’ In an effort to resolve the difficulty this rendering posed for its theology, the Watchtower Society (the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ publishing group) issued its own translation of the Bible, which rendered the verse as ‘the Word was a god’ (Reed 1986, 71). However, there are several reasons why this translation is inaccurate.

First, John, as a monotheistic Jew, would not have referred to another person as ‘a god.’ The Jews had no place for demigods in their belief system.

Second, if John had placed a definite article before theos, he would have abandoned the distinction between the two persons he established in the previous clause (‘the Word was with God’).

Third, the view defended by Jehovah’s Witnesses misunderstands Greek syntax. It is common in Greek for a predicate noun to be specific without having an article. For example, later in this chapter reference is made to Nathanael’s confession of Jesus, ‘you are the King of Israel’ (1: 49), with no article being before ‘King’ in the Greek (for other NT examples of this construction, see 8: 39; 17: 17; Rom 14: 17; Gal 4: 25; Rev 1: 20). From these examples, it is clear that the lack of an article in Greek does not necessarily imply indefiniteness (‘a’ god).

Finally, John could have used the word theios if he were simply trying to say that Jesus was ‘divine’ (i.e., that he had God-like qualities) rather than being God himself. The anarthrous (article-less) theos is most likely used to explain that Jesus ‘shared the essence of the Father though they differed in person’ (Wallace 1996, 269). As D. A. Carson explains, ‘In fact, if John had included the article, he would have been saying something quite untrue. He would have been so identifying the Word with God that no divine being could exist apart from the Word. In that case, it would be nonsense to say (in the words of the second clause of this verse) that the Word was with God.’

Commentary on John 1 (Pre-existence of Jesus)

The traditional view of the Gospel of John is that it was written by John the son of Zebedee and brother of James, the disciple “Jesus loved,” between AD 80-90. Some scholars have suggested that a different disciple named John wrote the Gospel, but thus far that theory has not gained majority acceptance.

John likely wrote the Gospel while he was living in Ephesus, toward the end of his life. The Gospel appears to be the first of five books he wrote, the next ones being the three NT letters that bear his name and the book of Revelation.

Andreas Kostenberger, in John, Acts: Volume Two of Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary, explains the purposes of John in writing his Gospel:

To demonstrate that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, by presenting and commenting on seven selected messianic signs. To show that the Christian faith is universal, applying to Jews and non-Jews alike, and the only way to God. To equip believers for mission. To evangelize unbelievers by equipping believers to share the good news.

In chapter one of the Gospel of John, verse 1, the disciple John officially introduces the person of Jesus Christ to the world. John explains that Jesus is the “Word of God” who has always existed with God. As the Word of God, He is co-equal with God Himself.

Why does John use the phrase “Word of God” to describe Jesus? Because that phrase is firmly rooted in the Old Testament. Gerald L. Borchert, in vol. 25A, John 1–11, The New American Commentary, writes:

The phrase ‘the word [dabar] of the Lord’ expresses one of the fundamental ideas of the Hebrew Old Testament. Among the many contexts in which it appears, it was used (1) as the basis for the covenant with Abraham (e.g., Gen 15:1); (2) as the foundation for the establishment of Israel’s laws (e.g., Exod 24:3–4) and the giving of the Ten Commandments (e.g., Deut 5:5); (3) as a clue to the closeness of the relationship of Israel with God (e.g., 1 Sam 3:1); (4) as the stated source for the proclamations of the prophets (e.g., 1 Kgs 13:20; 18:1; Isa 1:10; Hos 1:1; Joel 1:1); (5) as the wise means for guidance (e.g., Ps 17:4); and (6) as the key or way to enlightenment (e.g., Ps 119:105). Yet the creation statement of Ps 33:6 reminds us that in Israel’s thinking the word of the Lord carries in it the concept of an active power. The speaking of God in Genesis 1 is not merely the verbalizing of rationality that is basic to the Greek meaning of logos or the English word ‘logic.’ When God spoke according to the Old Testament, his very speaking initiated the power to create or to order reality.

John packs a tremendous amount of theology into verse 1, which we must not miss. Borchert enumerates John’s teaching in this critical verse:

Verse 1 of the Prologue then is a foundational confession (1) that the Logos has an origin that supersedes the created order of time and space, (2) that this Logos has an identity distinct from the previously understood designations for God, and (3) that the Logos must also be understood as part of the unity of God. Community and unity are in Christian theology two compatible sides of the eternal God. Here then are the beginnings of Christian reflection on the mind-stretching concept that became known as the doctrine of the Trinity.

Verse 2 reiterates John’s statement that the Word (Jesus) has been with God Himself since the beginning. Jesus, therefore, can never be considered a creation of God. Verse 2 rules that out.

Continuing in verse 3, everything that was created in the cosmos was created by Jesus. There is literally nothing that has been created without His action. This verse ties Jesus directly to the creation account in the book of Genesis.

Verses 4-5 communicate that Jesus is the source of all human life, both physical and spiritual. He is also the embodiment or personification of light, and the forces of darkness are unable to overcome Him. Andreas Kostenberger, in John, Acts: Volume Two (Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary), elaborates:

Both ‘life’ and ‘light’ are universal religious terms, but John’s teaching is deeply rooted in the Old Testament. At creation, calling forth ‘light’ was God’s first creative act (Gen. 1:3-5). Later, God placed lights in the sky to separate between light and darkness (1:14-18). Light, in turn, makes it possible for ‘life’ to exist. Thus on the fifth and sixth days of creation, God makes animate life to populate both the waters and dry land, culminating in his creation of humankind (1:20-31; 2:7; 3:20).

Now, according to John, life was ‘in him,’ Jesus. Jesus is the source of life, including both physical and spiritual (‘eternal’) life. He also is the source of light, since only those who possess spiritual, eternal life have within themselves the capacity to ‘walk in the light,’ that is, to make moral decisions that are in accordance with the revealed will of God.

Kostenberger adds (commenting on verse 5):

Beneath this contrast between light and darkness lies a significant cluster of Old Testament passages. Most interesting in this regard are several instances in Isaiah that depict the coming Messiah as a light entering the darkness. In Isaiah 9:2, we read that ‘the people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.’ In Isaiah 60:1-5, a time is envisioned when the nations will walk in God’s light and the glory of the Lord will shine brightly.

In verses 6-8, John takes a detour for a moment and introduces us to John the Baptist. There were followers of John the Baptist living in the 80’s and 90’s AD and the author of the Gospel wants to clarify, for them, who John the Baptist was. The Baptist’s purpose was to point people to Jesus, who is the true light. John the Baptist is not to be mistaken for the light himself.

Verses 9-13 tell us that Jesus was coming into the world, but sadly, even though Jesus made the world and was in the world, the world did not recognize Him. Jesus first went to the Jewish people, but they largely rejected Him. Recall that Isaiah had seven hundred years earlier prophesied this Jewish national unbelief: “Who has believed our message?” (Isa. 53:1).

However, those who do believe in the name of Jesus gain the right to become children of God. You don’t become a child of God based on your family ancestry, you become a child of God because of God’s supernatural intervention.

What does John mean when he says you must believe in Jesus’s name? Names carried much greater importance in Jewish tradition than they do now. A person’s name was to reflect his nature. So to believe in Jesus’s name is to believe in His nature. John has already explained that Jesus is God, that He has always existed, that He created everything (he will reveal more about His nature in verse 14). But what does the name “Jesus Christ” actually mean? Michael J. Wilkins, in Matthew, Mark, Luke: Volume One (Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary) explains:

’Jesus’ (Iesous) was the name normally used in the Gospels, derived from the Hebrew Yeshua, ‘Yahweh saves’ (Neh. 7:7), which is a shortened form of Joshua, ‘Yahweh is salvation’ (Ex. 24:13). ‘Christ’ is a title, the transliteration of the Greek Christos, which harks back to David as the anointed king of Israel. The term came to be associated with the promise of a Messiah or ‘anointed one’ who would be the hope for the people of Israel.

Verse 14 is something of a climax in the prologue. Let’s break the verse down. First, it says “And the Word became flesh.” Here John is introducing the doctrine of the incarnation. He is saying that the divine Word of God, who has always existed, added a human nature to His divine nature. Jesus is the God-man, fully God and fully man.

Next, John states that Jesus “dwelt among us.” The word translated “dwelt” actually means “tabernacled” or “tented.” Borchert notes that this “reminds us of Israel’s wilderness experience of God’s presence in the tabernacle or tent of meeting (cf. Exod 25:8–9; 35:7–16; 40:1–38).” God, in Jesus Christ, has come to take up residence among His people once again.

John continues, “[A]nd we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father.” Edwin A. Blum, in The Bible Knowledge Commentary writes:

We have seen most naturally implies that the author was an eyewitness. His glory refers to the unique splendor and honor seen in Jesus’ life, miracles, death, and resurrection. The one and only Son (monogenous; cf. John 1:18; 3:16, 18; 1 John 4:9) means that Jesus is the Son of God in a sense totally different from a human who believes and becomes a child of God. Jesus’ sonship is unique for He is eternal and is of the same essence as the Father.

Finally, “full of grace and truth” carry the concepts of loving-kindness and faithfulness. Jesus manifests, in its fullness, the love, care, faithfulness, and fidelity of God.

Verse 15 reiterates John the Baptist’s role as the witness to Jesus’s mission to the world. Andreas Kostenberger explains,

In the context of John’s openings words (where Jesus is portrayed as having existed with God from eternity), the Baptist’s personal confession also points to Jesus’ eternal origin (John 1:14; cf. 8:58; 12:41) and thus his preeminence.

Verse 16 explains that the full blessings of God are bestowed on His children again and again, like waves crashing into the shore.

In verses 17-18 John explains that the Law was given as a gift to mankind through Moses, but the full embodiment of God’s loving-kindness and faithfulness to mankind was given in the person of Jesus Christ. Because Jesus came in the flesh, as a human being, mankind was finally able to see God Himself. Kostenberger adds:

The reason for humanity’s inability to see God is twofold: (1) God is spirit (John 4:24); (2) mankind fell into sin and was expelled from God’s presence (Gen. 3; Isa. 59:2). Jesus surmounted both obstacles: (1) He who is himself God became a human being so that others could see God in him (John 14:9-10); (2) he who was without sin died for us sinners, so that our sinfulness no longer keeps us from entering into fellowship with God (Rom. 5:1-2, 6-11).

Commentary on Nehemiah 1-6 (Rebuilding the Walls of Jerusalem)

The traditional view of the Book of Nehemiah is that it was written by Ezra the scribe as a sequel to the Book of Ezra. Nehemiah contains two main sections: the Nehemiah Memoir (chapters 1-7, 12-13) and the Ezra Memoir (chapters 8-10). These memoirs appear to be first-hand accounts of the activities of Ezra and Nehemiah during the years of 445 – 433 BC.

According to Barrett Duke in The Apologetics Study Bible, the Book of Nehemiah

relates the continuing efforts of the Jewish people who returned from 70 years of captivity in the Babylonian Empire to reestablish themselves in their homeland. The principal person in this part of the history is Nehemiah, a Jew who had attained the influential position of cupbearer in the court of the Persian King Artaxerxes. Nehemiah was the last in a succession of Jewish leaders in the biblical record to help the people achieve a stable and vibrant life in the Persian province known as Yehud, or Judah. Nehemiah followed Sheshbazzar (who led the first return), Zerubbabel (who led the temple rebuilding project), and Ezra the priest and scribe (who led the spiritual renewal of the people). Nehemiah’s principal contribution to the emerging community was the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s wall, which had been destroyed in 586 b.c. by the Babylonians.

Prior to the beginning of events recorded in the Book of Nehemiah, the Persian king Artaxerxes had ordered work on the walls of Jerusalem to be halted, citing the rebellious history of Jerusalem. However, he did allow Ezra, a prominent Jewish scholar, to lead another group of Jews back to Jerusalem from Babylon in 458 BC. The Chronological Study Bible (NKJV) explains the significance of Ezra:

Ezra’s focus and authority was Scripture, which at that time meant the Books of Moses. In the years before the Exile, Scripture had not been treated as particularly significant. Indeed, when a part of the Law of Moses was found and read during King Josiah’s reign, the king and people had evidently never heard such a message before (2 Kin. 22: 8– 13). Israelite worship had been concentrated on the temple, not the law. During the Exile, though, that changed. Without a temple, the Jews had to find a new center for their faith. They became the people of the Book. In this context, a new kind of religious leader arose. The Hebrew word for these leaders, usually translated ‘scribes,’ means in a sense ‘bookmen,’ learned men who were able to read and write. Ezra represents this new sort of leader. Although he is from the high priestly line of Aaron (Ezra 7: 1– 5), his true authority comes from his standing as ‘a skilled scribe in the Law of Moses’ (7: 6).

Ezra was more concerned with the spiritual condition of the returned exile community than repairs to Jerusalem itself. In fact, even though a new temple had been completed in 515 BC, the walls and gates protecting Jerusalem were still in disrepair due to Artaxerxes’ earlier decree. This brings us to the year 445 BC and the Book of Nehemiah.

In chapter one, verses 1-3, Nehemiah hears from his brother Hanani that the walls and gates of Jerusalem are still destroyed. Nehemiah is living in Susa, the winter capital of the Persian Empire. We soon learn that Nehemiah is one of the most trusted aides to Artaxerxes, king of Persia.

Upon hearing this news, Nehemiah mourns and prays to God. Nehemiah’s prayer consists of: 1) acknowledgment of and praise for who God is, 2) confession of his sins and the sins of Israel, 3) reminder of God’s promises to Israel if they will repent, and 4) a request to help Nehemiah when he approaches King Artaxerxes.

Mervin Breneman, in vol. 10, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, The New American Commentary, writes:

Nehemiah’s prayer was based on God’s Word. As Kidner notes, even though Nehemiah, like all of us, had to come before God empty-handed, with nothing deserving the Lord’s favor or even attention (indeed, just the opposite), he nevertheless did not come uninvited. Most of this prayer is based on Deuteronomy, many phrases of which are practically the same. Nehemiah realized that God justly punished Israel, but he reminded God that this very situation had been anticipated in Deut 4:25–31 and of his promise of mercy, faithfulness, and forgiveness.

Nehemiah realized that God had fulfilled much of Deut 30:1–10; but he was convinced that God’s promise included more than the situation in which the Jerusalem community found itself at that moment. Thus, Nehemiah’s prayer shows a profound understanding and faith in what God had promised in his Word. Nehemiah challenges us to prayer based on an understanding of God’s purpose and will as found in his Word. He also reminds us that we can always begin again in our relationship with God if we return to him in humility.

Approximately four months later, after much prayer and planning, Nehemiah is ready to speak to Artaxerxes. As Nehemiah is tasting wine and then giving it to Artaxerxes (his job was to taste everything before the king did so that the king could not be poisoned), the king notices a profound sadness in Nehemiah and asks him what is the matter. With great tact and humility, Nehemiah asks the king to allow him to return to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. He also asks for letters to be given to the rulers of the provinces Nehemiah must travel through, as well as orders to provide timber from the forests under Artaxerxes’ control. The timber would be used to construct the walls of Jerusalem. Due to God’s intercession, Artaxerxes grants Nehemiah everything he requests! Artaxerxes’ permission to rebuild the city of Jerusalem fulfills the decree Daniel had prophesied 95 years earlier in 539 BC (see Dan 9:25).

About a month after Nehemiah is given permission to return to Jerusalem, he departs. The journey lasts 2-3 months, which puts Nehemiah in Jerusalem in the June-July timeframe. Immediately upon arrival he inspects the walls around Jerusalem, devises a plan to rebuild, and rallies the people of Judah to do the work.

In chapter four, verse 6, we learn that the wall has been rebuilt to almost half of its original height in just a few weeks! The progress on the wall has greatly upset the leaders of the provinces surrounding Judah. Sanballat is governor of Samaria, the province just north of Judah. Tobiah is likely the governor of Ammon, a province just east of Judah on the other side of the Jordan River.  The Arabians border Judah to the south and the province of Ashdod borders them on the west. The leaders of these provinces plot to attack Jerusalem, but first spread rumors about their plan in the hope that the Judahites will abandon their plans to complete the wall out of fear.

Nehemiah prays to God and then continues to rebuild the wall. In order to protect the people of Jerusalem, he institutes safety measures. To prevent their enemies from breaching and/or destroying the walls at night, he stations family units at low points in the wall to guard it. His reasoning is that family members will fight to protect each other more so than if family members are spread out around different portions of the wall. During the day, while construction is going on, he assigns half of the people to stand guard with weapons and the other half to build. Those who could work with only one hand would hold a weapon in their other hand.

Nehemiah reminds the people in verse 14, “Do not be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your brothers, your sons, your daughters, your wives, and your homes.” Gene A. Getz, in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, writes,

After praying, Nehemiah and the Jews continued with the work. Some Christians pray and then wait for things to happen, but not Nehemiah! As in all his efforts, he blended the divine perspective with the human. He faced Sanballat’s opposition with both prayer and hard work. Once he committed the problem to the Lord, he trusted God to help them achieve their goal.

Finally, in chapter six, verses 15-16, we read that the wall is completed in just fifty-two days! Against all the odds, Nehemiah and the people of Judah rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem in a very short period of time. The text concludes that the surrounding provinces had to admit that God was with the Judahites, because there was no other way they could have accomplished such a feat.

Mervin Breneman writes,

Judah’s enemies tried to make Nehemiah and the Jews afraid; but in the end they were the ones who feared (cf. Deut 2:25; 1 Chr 14:17; Ps 126:2; Mal 1:11, 14) because they realized God had done something astonishing in this community. The phrase ‘and lost their self-confidence’ is literally ‘and they fell very much in their eyes,’ an unfamiliar idiom but one suggesting their pride had suddenly vanished (cf. Prov 16:18–19; 29:23). Though the enemies increased because of Sanballat, the result was that more people were impressed with God’s power (4:1, 7).

The historical narrative contained in the Old Testament ends in the Book of Nehemiah around 433 BC. Zondervan’s NIV, The Story, provides a quick summary of the events which occurred after 400 BC, leading up to the birth of the Messiah:

For 400 years after Malachi’s prophecies, no prophets or leaders rose to the level of inclusion in the record of Holy Scripture. For this reason, the period is sometimes referred to as the ‘silent years.’ In actuality, these years of social and political upheaval were anything but silent for the Jewish people.

The Maccabean revolt against the Seleucids during the second century BC was one of the most heroic eras of Jewish history. During these 400 years numerous significant writings were produced as well. The Qumran community copied the books of Isaiah, the Psalms, Deuteronomy and other sacred writings. These ancient manuscripts were discovered by a shepherd boy in AD 1947 near the Dead Sea and are known today as the ‘Dead Sea Scrolls.’

The Deuterocanonical books, or books of the Apocrypha, accepted as Holy Scripture by the Roman and Eastern churches, were written in the years between the Old and New Testament. The Septuagint, the Greek translation of the old Testament, was also an important product of the period. It became the Bible for Greek-speaking Jews outside Palestine and later for the early church.

But God’s story wasn’t finished. ‘When the set time had fully come,’ as the apostle Paul put it, God spoke again— this time in the person of Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, whose birth, life, death and resurrection changed everything.”

The story continues!

Commentary on Ezra 1-6 (Return from Babylon)

The traditional view of the book of Ezra is that it was written by Ezra the scribe and completed around 400 BC. The Book of Ezra appears to be a continuation of 1 and 2 Chronicles, which leads some to posit that a single author composed both. In addition, many scholars agree that the author of Ezra is also the author of Nehemiah, so it is possible that a single author was responsible for all three books. There is more certainty, however, that Ezra and Nehemiah were composed by a single author.

The Book of Ezra is a history of the early days of the return of the Jewish people from their 70 years of captivity in Babylon. The book spans 538 BC to around 456 BC. Ezra 1-6 describes the return from Babylon under the leadership of Sheshbazzar and Zerubbabel, and the rebuilding of the Jerusalem temple. Ezra 7-10 is Ezra’s own account of his activities as priest and scribe to order the life of the returned Jewish community according to biblical standards.

The Medo-Persian King Cyrus conquers Babylon in 539 BC. The very next year Cyrus starts to overturn the policies of the Babylonians with regard to the exile communities living in their midst. In verses 1-4 of chapter one, Cyrus decrees that the Jews in Babylonian exile may return to their homeland in Judah and rebuild the temple. In addition, Cyrus would provide monetary assistance for the construction of the temple.

Why would Cyrus do this? The Chronological Study Bible explains:

Certainly Cyrus believed that his empire was built with the help of the god who ruled over the entire earth. In writing to various peoples, he called that deity by the name of the highest god of the people to whom he wrote. This might be a classic case of political propaganda, or Cyrus may have assumed that there was one god, who was called different names by different peoples. In either case, Cyrus both appealed to the gods to support his kingship and to the peoples of his new empire to accept him as rightful ruler.

John A. Martin, in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, adds that

Cyrus’ concern was to establish strong buffer states around his empire which would be loyal to him. Also by having his subject peoples resettled in their own countries he hoped to have the gods in various parts of his empire praying for him to his gods Bel and Nebo. The famous Cyrus Cylinder (538 B.C.), which records his capture of Babylon and his program of repatriating his subject peoples in their homelands, includes this statement: ‘May all the gods whom I have resettled in their sacred cities daily ask Bel and Nebo for a long life for me.’

Although Cyrus is the king who allows the Jews to return from exile, the author is careful to note that God is responsible for Cyrus’s decision. Both Jeremiah and Isaiah had prophesied that the Jews would be freed from Babylonian rule by Cyrus, with Jeremiah even predicting the date this would occur. God made sure these prophecies would come to pass. He is sovereign over all the affairs of the world.

Tens of thousands of Jews decide to take up Cyrus’s offer to return to Judah. Their Babylonian neighbors assist them with silver, gold, animals, and other goods that would help them get resettled in Judah (reminiscent of the Israelites leaving Egypt). Cyrus orders all of the treasures that were taken by Nebuchadnezzar from the temple to be returned to the Jews. The Jews begin their trek to their homeland under the command of Sheshbazzar.

As we move to verses 8-13 in chapter three, two new leaders have taken charge of the post-exilic community in Jerusalem: Zerubbabel and Jeshua. Zerubbabel has evidently succeeded Sheshbazzar as political leader of the community and Jeshua is acting as the religious leader, or high priest.

In the second year after their arrival, they begin to construct the foundations of the new temple. When the foundation is completed, there is a great celebration which is patterned after King David’s celebration of the Ark being brought to Jerusalem. After 70 years in exile, the people of Judah sing about God, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel.”

In the midst of shouting and praise, the older members of the community, who had seen Solomon’s temple before it was destroyed, are weeping because they realize that the new temple they are constructing is inferior to the grandeur of the original temple. The prophet Haggai, some years later, would reassure the people of Judah that the new temple would outshine the old.

“’The latter glory of this house shall be greater than the former, says the LORD of hosts. And in this place I will give peace, declares the LORD of hosts.’”

Why? Because the Son of God, the Messiah, Jesus Christ Himself would enter the new temple and bring it unparalleled glory because of His presence.

Even though construction of the new temple is started in 536 BC, the people of Judah would not finish until 515 BC, 21 years later. Why did it take so long? Ezra 4:1-5 provides one reason: the hostility of the people living around Jerusalem.

Who are these enemies and adversaries of post-exilic community? John Martin writes,

The enemies of Judah and Benjamin refer to the people living in Palestine since the time of the fall of the Northern Kingdom in 722 B.C. . . .

The ‘enemies’ (called ‘the peoples around them,’ Ezra 4:4) were the descendants of these mixed peoples and the forefathers of the New Testament Samaritans. These people in Ezra’s day claimed that they worshiped the same God, that is, Yahweh, the God of Israel. But they had a syncretistic form of worship; they worshiped both Yahweh and others (2 Kings 17:29, 32–34, 41). Therefore their statement (Ezra 4:2) was not fully accurate and was apparently made to mislead the leadership of the returned band.

The enemies of Judah request to participate in the construction project. They argue that since they worship the same god as Judah, then they should help build the temple. However, Zerubbabel and Jeshua refuse to let them build the temple. Why? Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., Peter H. Davids, F. F. Bruce and Manfred T. Brauch, in Hard Sayings of the Bible, write,

Zerubbabel’s refusal to accept help, then, must not be viewed as being sinfully separatistic or just plain mistaken. No doubt the leaders of the province of Samaria viewed the emergence of a new, aggressive presence in Judah, one that enjoyed the favor of the imperial government of Persia, as a threat. Hence their offer to help in sharing the costs and labor in building the temple would have entailed a certain amount of control in the temple itself. It would appear that the offer had more of the overtones of political power than of pure neighborliness. It was for this reason that Zerubbabel refused help from these who usually were their enemies.

When Zerubbabel and Jeshua refuse to allow them to participate, the enemies’ next move is to begin a campaign of harassment against the workers. This campaign likely consisted of threats of bodily harm and property damage. Mervin Breneman, in vol. 10, Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, The New American Commentary, speculates that the counselors in verse 5 “may have been Persian officials bribed to obstruct the builders in every possible way.” The author notes that the harassment continued for decades.

Work on the temple stops from 535 BC to 520 BC. Two prophets, Haggai and Zechariah, encourage the people of Judah to start building again, and they succeed. John Martin reflects on the role of these two prophets:

They were vitally concerned with the building of the temple because they realized that their nation could never fulfill the obligations of the Mosaic Covenant till the temple worship was reinstated. Both of these prophets placed the blame for the hard times the nation experienced during this period on the people’s lack of obedience in not rebuilding the temple. However, Ezra did not deal with that question in his book. He stressed the outside opposition which was also a factor in slowing the work.

As soon as work resumes, however, a Persian governor, Tattenai, intervenes and writes a letter to King Darius about the temple construction. King Darius investigates and finds the original decree signed by Cyrus which gave the Jews permission to build the temple.

In chapter 6, verses 6-12, Darius writes back Tattenai and gives him instructions to not impede the Jews, and to instead help them finish the project with financial assistance. Anyone who disobeys the decree is to be impaled and have their house destroyed.

Tattenai dutifully obeys Darius and helps the Jews finish the temple. The construction is finally completed in 515 BC. Mervin Breneman summarizes this historic occasion:

This victory of God’s people clearly displays the providence of God at work through these pagan potentates. God in his providence works everything together to fulfill his plan. He used the prophets Haggai and Zechariah to inspire the people to work; he used the kings’ decrees to open doors and provide the means. The author displayed the holy enthusiasm all Christians should share when they realize they are part of God’s plan to fulfill his kingdom.

Commentary on Daniel 3 (Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego Refuse to Bow)

The events of chapter three are hard to date, but it seems that they take place within a few years of Daniel’s interpretation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. Inspired by the statue in the dream, the king builds a statue which is 90 feet high, ten feet wide, and overlaid with gold. This is the height of a nine story building. The statue is built on an elevated plain outside of the ancient city of Babylon. Construction on the plain would make the statue easy to see from a long distance. J. Dwight Pentecost, in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, writes,

Archeologists have uncovered a large square made of brick some six miles southeast of Babylon, which may have been the base for this image. Since this base is in the center of a wide plain, the image’s height would have been impressive. Also its proximity to Babylon would have served as a suitable rallying point for the king’s officials.

It is unclear whether the statue is made to look like Nebuchadnezzar or one of the gods of the Babylonians. It may have even been a mixture of the two. In any case, the image carved into the statue was meant to be worshiped.

When the statue is finished, Nebuchadnezzar assembles Babylonian government officials from all over the empire. There are likely hundreds of these officials brought to dedicate the image. Pentecost explains who is in attendance.

The satraps were chief representatives of the king, the prefects were military commanders, and the governors were civil administrators. The advisers were counselors to those in governmental authority. The treasurers administered the funds of the kingdom, the judges were administrators of the law, and the magistrates passed judgment in keeping with the law. The other provincial officials were probably subordinates of the satraps. This list of officers probably included all who served in any official capacity under Nebuchadnezzar.

As they are standing in front of the statue, a herald announces that when the orchestra begins to play, everyone is to bow down and worship the image Nebuchadnezzar has built. Refusal to bow down to the statue will result in execution by furnace. The furnace that had likely been used to build the statue was now acting as a death chamber.

Why would Nebuchadnezzar build this giant gold statue and then command his government officials to bow down and worship the statue? His reasoning is likely that it would unite his new empire and consolidate his authority. Iain M. Duguid, in Daniel, Reformed Expository Commentary, notes that

this act of worship was designed to reverse the consequences of the original Tower of Babel by unifying the whole world in an act of submission to this statue. When the music of a cacophony of different instruments sounded, everyone was to bow down to the statue. Sure enough, when the music rang out, ‘all the peoples, nations and men of every language fell down and worshiped the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up’ (3:7). For a moment, the whole world was united in bowing to Nebuchadnezzar’s statue. The curse of Babel had, it seemed, successfully been reversed.

When the orchestra begins, everyone bows down except for three men – Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. Unnamed officials, who are undoubtedly jealous of the powers given to the three Jewish men, inform Nebuchadnezzar that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did not bow down as commanded. No mention is made of Daniel, so it seems that he was not required to attend the ceremony. He was perhaps left in the city of Babylon to administer while the rest of the government attended the dedication of the gold statue.

Nebuchadnezzar brings the three Jews before him and gives them one more chance to bow down to the statue. The three Jewish men refuse and express confidence that God will save them from the furnace, but even if He does not, they will still not worship the gods of Babylon. Duguid explains,

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did not presume to predict what the outcome would be in their case. If God were our servant, or our accomplice, he would be predictable: he would always do our bidding. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego understood that since God is sovereign, however, it was his choice whether he opted to be glorified in their deaths or through their dramatic deliverance. Either way, it didn’t make a difference to their decision. Whether they were miraculously delivered or left to burn in the fire, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego would not compromise their commitment to the Lord. Live or die, they would be faithful to their God.

Nebuchadnezzar orders the furnace to be heated to maximum intensity. Soldiers tie up the Jews and carry them to the opening in the top of the furnace and drop them in. The fire is so intense that the soldiers carrying the Jews are killed by the flames shooting out the top.

As Nebuchadnezzar watches at a safe distance, he is shocked at what he sees. The furnace would have an opening on the side of it where fuel could be added and ashes could be removed. As the king peers into this opening, he sees four people walking around, apparently unharmed. The fourth person appears to be some sort of divine being. The identity of this divine being could be an angel or the pre-incarnate Jesus Christ Himself. It’s impossible to know from the text.

The king approaches the furnace and orders the three Jews to come out of the opening on the side. When they step out of the furnace, they are untouched by the fire. In fact, their clothes do not even smell from the fire of the furnace.

The king, who has clearly seen a miracle, praises the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego for saving their lives. He then decrees that anyone who speaks against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego will be executed and have their property destroyed.

Although Nebuchadnezzar has just seen a miracle, he still does not pledge his personal allegiance to Yahweh. He merely expresses respect for the God of the Jews. Why is this? Duguid offers the following analysis:

Yet even great miracles don’t have the power in themselves to change people’s hearts. People will always find a way to explain them away. So too Nebuchadnezzar’s heart was not changed at a deep level by this experience. The God of whom he spoke was still ‘the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego,’ or ‘their God,’ not his own. He still would not fall down in the face of this revelation of the Lord’s power and confess, ‘My Lord and my God.’

Sadly, there are many who respond in exactly the same way to the message of the cross and resurrection of Christ, and other demonstrations of God’s mighty power. When you tell them what the Lord has done, they say, ‘I’m glad you’ve found something that works for you. I’m happy for you. But don’t ask me to submit to your God.’ Sooner or later, though, they will be forced to bow their knee before the Lord and confess his power and his glory. Such a confession on that day will save no one: it will be a bare recognition of the nature of reality. The confession that saves is the one that bows joyfully now before the Lord and confesses him, ‘My Lord and my God, my only hope in life and death.’

What Are the Four Kingdoms from Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream?

In Daniel 2, Daniel interprets a dream of the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar. In this dream, the king sees a massive statue composed of gold, silver, bronze, and iron. Daniel interprets the four parts of the statue to be four successive kingdoms, or empires. The gold kingdom is identified as the Babylonian empire, of which Nebuchadnezzar is leader. However, the other three empires are not named by Daniel.

Biblical scholars differ on their identity. Traditionalists identify them as the Medo-Persian, Greek, and Roman empires. Critical scholars, who date Daniel as a second century BC composition, identify them as the Median, Persian, and Greek empires.

Stephen R. Miller, writing in the Apologetics Study Bible, further explains the critical view:

On this view the final kingdom, to be crushed and replaced by God’s eternal kingdom, would be the regime of the Seleucid ruler Antiochus IV Epiphanes. By this argument these critics assign the writing of [Daniel] to the period of Antiochus’s persecution. To make the Greek Empire the last in the series, they claim that Daniel’s author artificially partitioned the Medo-Persian Empire into two consecutive world empires, the Median and the Persian.

The critical scholars argue that the author of Daniel was writing history, not prophecy. He was looking backward in time. But does this position actually have support from the text? Stephen Miller believes the answer is “no.”

Since the Median Empire never existed as a separate world power after the Neo-Babylonian, however, this would mean that Daniel committed an enormous historical blunder. That even a semieducated Jew (even in the second century B.C.) could be ignorant of the fact that it was the ruler of the Medo-Persian Empire, Cyrus the Great, who delivered them from the Babylonian captivity is highly unlikely. Next to the Egyptian exodus itself, this was the most important event in the history of Israel as a nation. Furthermore, both 2 Chr 36:22–23 and Ezra 1:1–4 testify that it was Cyrus the Persian who conquered Babylon and issued the decree allowing the Jews to return to their homeland.

Also the author of Daniel demonstrates throughout the book that he was well aware that Media and Persia were not two separate world kingdoms but a unified empire. For example, in 8:20 the two-horned ram (symbolizing one kingdom) represents “the kings of Media and Persia,” and in chap. 6 the author referred to the “laws of the Medes and Persians” (cf. vv. 8, 15), indicating that Darius ruled by the laws of the Medo-Persian Empire, not a separate Median kingdom.

Miller further explains that the traditional view has been held from as far back as the 1st centuries BC and AD.

Josephus and 2 Esd 12:10–51 identified the fourth empire as Rome. Childs acknowledges that the writers of the New Testament Gospels considered the Roman Empire to be the fourth kingdom, and Walton comments, ‘The evidence in the writings of the Church fathers is massive and in unison in favor of the Roman view.’ Only in modern times did the opinion that Greece was the fourth empire become widespread.

Commentary on Daniel 2 (Nebuchadnezzar’s Dream)

Three years after Daniel is brought to Babylon (602 BC), King Nebuchadnezzar has a recurring dream. He knows the dream is significant, so he asks the wise men who serve him to interpret the dream for him. There is a catch, though. He will not tell them what he dreamed; they have to figure that out for themselves, and then interpret its meaning. The wise men complain that only the gods could possibly know his dream and that what he asks is impossible.

It is interesting to note exactly what the wise men say to the king: “The thing that the king asks is difficult, and no one can show it to the king except the gods, whose dwelling is not with flesh.” The Babylonians are convinced that the gods do not dwell in the flesh, yet this is exactly what would happen 600 years later when Jesus Christ is born. Jesus’s birth completely refutes the pagan theology of the Babylonians, for He is God in the flesh.

The king then passes a death sentence on all the wise men in Babylon, for he has become convinced that they are all frauds. Daniel learns about the king’s decree and seeks a stay of execution from the king so that Daniel can have some time to figure out the dream and its interpretation.

Why is Nebuchadnezzar so anxious about the dream and why does he seemingly overreact when his wise men cannot tell him what the dream is? Stephen R. Miller, in vol. 18, Daniel, The New American Commentary, speculates that

the king probably felt that the dream foretold some terrible disaster that was going to befall him. After all, Nebuchadnezzar had seen a manlike statue destroyed, which he likely associated with himself or his empire. He may well have felt insecure about his newly acquired kingdom, and he may have considered the destruction of the statue a divine omen to him that he and his empire were doomed. Perhaps this led him to believe that someone was planning to assassinate him and take away his kingdom. With intrigue in the courts of that day common, such was a real possibility (two out of the next three Babylonian kings were assassinated). Traitors may have been in his midst planning to overthrow his government at that very moment. Since a coup usually was perpetrated by the military or the court, the king may have wondered if some of these very wise men were plotting against him. Thus he was not reluctant to rid himself of them.

Daniel and his three friends start praying to God that He will reveal the dream to them. That very night God reveals the dream and its meaning to Daniel in a vision. After offering a prayer of praise and thanksgiving to God, Daniel promptly seeks an audience with the king to reveal the dream and its meaning. Daniel gives all the credit for the revelation of the dream to the “God in heaven” whom Daniel worships. Daniel agrees with the previous wise men that no human being could discover the mystery of the dream, but only the one true God who knows everything.

In Nebuchadnezzar’s dream, he is standing in front of a massive statue. The statue is composed of 1) a head made of gold, 2) chest and arms of silver, 3) torso and thighs of bronze, 4) legs of iron, and 5) and feet made of a mixture of iron and clay. As the dream progresses, a rock, which is supernaturally cut out from a mountain, strikes the feet and destroys them, after which the entire statue disintegrates into dust and is blown away with the wind. The rock then grows in size until it is as big as the entire earth.

But what does this dream mean? Daniel explains that the head of gold symbolizes the Babylonian empire led by Nebuchadnezzar. His kingdom will be followed by another (the silver kingdom), and that kingdom will be followed by another (the bronze kingdom), and then finally the fourth kingdom will arise (the iron and clay kingdom). The rock that destroys the statue is a kingdom set up by God Himself. God’s kingdom will eradicate all of the human kingdoms and it will stand forever.

So what are the three kingdoms in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream? Most conservative scholars identify the silver kingdom as Medo-Persia, the empire that topples the Babylonians in 539 BC, initially led by Cyrus the Great.  The bronze kingdom is the Greek empire. The Greeks defeat the Medo-Persians in 332 BC. Alexander the Great is the first leader of the Greek empire. The iron kingdom is the Roman empire, which begins in 146 BC and would last 500 years before its split into east and west.

Most scholars likewise recognize that the rock which destroys the human kingdoms is Jesus Christ at His second coming. When the Messiah returns, He will set up his kingdom on earth and it will have no end.

How do we know Jesus is the rock in Nebuchadnezzar’s dream? In Luke 20, Jesus tells the parable of the son of the vineyard owner. In that parable (verses 17-18), Jesus quotes from Daniel 2 in reference to the rock. He identifies Himself as the Messiah, the rock which will crush the kingdoms of the world. Clearly Jesus believes that He is the rock of Daniel 2.

Nebuchadnezzar is amazed by Daniel and his God and he pays homage to them. As a reward to Daniel, he promotes him to ruler of the province of Babylon (the city) and also leader of all the wise men of Babylon. Daniel asks that his three friends also be promoted to serve Daniel in the province of Babylon, and his request is granted. Even though Daniel is probably not even yet twenty years old, he has become one of the most important people in the entire Babylonian empire.

The primary purpose of this story is to communicate the triumph of Daniel over the Babylonian wise men. Daniel serves an all-powerful, all-knowing God who can reveal to Daniel what the future holds. The Babylonian wise men worship false gods who know nothing about the future.

Additionally, Daniel 2 teaches us about the broad sweep of human history. Each of the successive world empires is inferior to the former – gold to silver to bronze to iron. There is a progressive decay in the world of men. Iain M. Duguid, in Daniel, Reformed Expository Commentary, writes,

In a real sense, this is not simply a vision of the decline and fall of the Babylonian empire and its immediate successors, but an epitaph for human history. The entire human endeavor, though gifted and blessed by God in the beginning with unparalleled glory and dominion, ends up in nothing but division and dissolution.

This vision of mankind runs counter to the narrative popular in our day, that mankind is improving itself and world we live in. Duguid explains the significance of the rock destroying the statue:

The final word of history does not lie with a new and improved version of the statue of man. Rather, it lies with something radical that God will do: a rock that is not hewn by human hands will strike and demolish the statue and then grow to fill the earth (Dan. 2:34–35). This rock clearly points to the kingdom that God will establish in the last days, a kingdom that starts small and lacking in glory but grows through the power of God until it ultimately dominates the entire globe and becomes the ultimate fact of history. Only that divine kingdom is eternal.

When Was the Book of Daniel Written?

Traditional scholarship holds that Daniel was written in the sixth century BC and is historically reliable, but many modern biblical scholars hold that Daniel was written in the second century BC and is pious fiction. Let’s take a look at some of the evidence offered for the second century date and responses to that evidence by critical scholarship.

Walt Kaiser and Duane Garrett, in the NIV Archaeological Study Bible, summarize several lines of evidence:

Jesus ben Sirach (Sir 44– 50), 1 writing in approximately 180 B.C., cited numerous Old Testament heroes— but not Daniel.

Belshazzar is called ‘king’ of Babylon in Daniel 5; the actual king was Nabonidus.

Darius the Mede (5:31 and ch. 6) is otherwise unknown.

The stories of Nebuchadnezzar’s insanity and of the fiery furnace read like pious legends— far-fetched miracle stories common in intertestamental Jewish texts.

Half of Daniel was written in Aramaic, a language Jews spoke during the intertestamental period. Daniel 3 also includes three Greek words— suggesting that the book was written after Greek culture had invaded the Near East.

How do traditionalists respond?

Ben Sirach also omits mention of other famous Israelites, including Ezra. Also, Sirach may himself have been influenced by Daniel. In Sirach 36:10 he prayed, ‘Hasten the day, and remember the appointed time’— verbiage resembling Daniel 11: 27, 35. It may be that ben Sirach offhandedly cited Daniel, which of course implies that the book already existed in his lifetime.

The book demonstrates familiarity with the history and culture of the seventh and sixth centuries B.C. Daniel rightly portrays the position of Belshazzar, coregent with Nabonidus. He could have appropriately been called ‘king’ (5: 1), but in 5: 16 Belshazzar offered to make the one who could interpret the writing on the wall ‘the third highest ruler in the kingdom.’ As Belshazzar was himself the second ruler, this was the highest honor he could confer.

Darius the Mede is not mentioned by that name outside the Bible. This is the kind of historical puzzle scholars frequently encounter in ancient texts. In contrast, intertestamental Jewish works of religious fiction lack historical credibility in a way that has no parallel in historical works. The Apocryphal book of Judith, for example, written during the reign of Antiochus IV, contains absurd historical blunders and is altogether unlike Daniel.

The miracles of Daniel are outside the ability of history or archaeology to prove. Still, the following observations are pertinent: Miracles do not prove that a work is fictional. Nebuchadnezzar’s madness was a rare but authentic clinical condition called boanthropy. ‘Made-up’ miracle stories contain outrageous elements with no clinical analogy (e.g., in Tb 2: 9– 10, another Apocryphal book, Tobit goes blind because of sparrow droppings in his eyes).

The fact that half of Daniel is written in Aramaic is a mystery with regard to any proposed reconstruction of its history. But the Aramaic of Daniel is ‘official,’ or ‘imperial’— the standardized Aramaic used in official correspondence when Aramaic was the lingua franca of the Near East (see 2Ki 18: 26; Ezr 4: 7; Da 2: 4), not the colloquial, regional Aramaic of second-century B.C. Palestine, at which time the common language of the region was Greek. All three of the Greek words of 3: 5 are musical terms. Greek poets and musicians were renowned, so their musical vocabulary came into use early. What would be surprising is how little Greek appears in Daniel, if the book had been written in the second century B.C., when the world was thoroughly Hellenized. The Persian words in Daniel are of an older, pre-Hellenistic Persian.

Stephen Miller, writing in the Apologetics Study Bible, offers additional evidence for the traditional dating of Daniel in the sixth century BC:

1. The NT writers and Jesus Himself accepted the traditional understanding of the prophecy (cp. Mt 24: 15 and Mk 13: 14; Mt 26: 64 and Mk 14: 62 and Lk 22: 69; Heb 11: 33-34).

2. The book professes to have been written by Daniel (see 7: 1; 12: 4), to be an account of a historical individual who experienced the exile and lived in Babylon, and to predict future events (e.g., 2: 29-45; 7: 2,15-27; 8: 15-26; 9: 24-27; 10: 14; 11: 2– 12: 4).

3. One of the eight manuscripts of Daniel discovered at Qumran (4QDanc) has been dated to about 125 b.c. and may have been written earlier. Some scholars have argued that there would have been insufficient time for the book of Daniel to have gained such widespread acceptance if it were written only 40 years previously.

4. The Septuagint was the Greek translation of the OT produced in Alexandria, Egypt, that came to be used widely by the Jews of the Diaspora. Scholars generally agree that at least the Pentateuch (first five books) was translated in the middle of the third century b.c., but it is likely that all the Bible books were translated into Greek about the same time. If so, a second century date for Daniel is impossible. According to the critical view, only 30 years after it was written, the book of Daniel was received into the canon and carried to Alexandria, approximately 300 miles away, and there translated into Greek. Such a proposal seems unlikely.

5. Ezekiel, the sixth-century prophet, mentioned Daniel three times in his book (Ezk 14: 14, 20; 28: 3)— seemingly clear verification of the traditional view. Critical scholars, however, insist Ezekiel was speaking of a mythological hero named Danel who appears in the ancient Ugaritic epic “The Tale of Aqhat.” A decisive argument against such a theory is that the epic Danel was an idolater, hardly a model of faithfulness to Israel’s God. Ezekiel must have been referring to the author of the book of Daniel. If so, the historicity of Daniel and his book would seem to be established.

Commentary on Daniel 1 (Daniel Resolves to Obey God in Babylon)

The traditional view of the book of Daniel is that it was written by Daniel or an associate of Daniel and completed around 530 BC. Some biblical scholars are skeptical that Daniel wrote the book and they attribute it to a second century BC Jew writing during the Maccabean revolt. More will be said about this in a subsequent blog post.

Assuming Daniel actually wrote the book, his purpose was to encourage the Jewish exile community. He reminded them that God is in control of everything and that in the future God would restore His people.

Daniel is also unique because it is the first example of apocalyptic literature in the Bible. Stephen R. Miller, in vol. 18, Daniel, The New American Commentary, explains what the apocalyptic genre is.

Canonical apocalyptic should be viewed positively as a method (or genre) employed by God to ‘unveil’ wonderful truths to his people. What is unveiled by apocalyptic? Two truths stand out. First, apocalyptic grants the world a glimpse of God himself. In Daniel and other apocalyptic works, God is portrayed as sovereign, just, and powerful. He is in control of the universe and the lives of individuals. Second, canonical apocalyptic works unveil the future, not in order to satisfy idle curiosity but as a source of comfort and encouragement to the saints during their time of need.

Daniel is taken to Babylon during the second deportation of Jerusalem in the year 605 BC. Daniel and his three friends, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azaria, are evidently part of the royal family, or members of important noble families in Jerusalem. Because they were young (likely under sixteen years of age), intelligent, and physically healthy, they were selected by King Nebuchadnezzar to be trained as royal advisors. Training would typically take about three years and included being thoroughly educated and indoctrinated in Babylonian language, culture, and literature. Stephen Miller provides more details about their education:

They learned to speak and write the language of Babylon, which was a form of Akkadian known as Neo-Babylonian. Akkadian was written in cuneiform, which was made up of wedge-shaped characters, commonly engraved on clay tablets. Archaeologists have uncovered thousands of these texts. Daniel and his friends would have known several other languages, including Hebrew, Aramaic, and, later, Persian.

The chief court official, Ashpenaz, who is administering their education, gives them Babylonian names which they were expected to use going forward. Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah became Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

Why change their names? Iain Duguid, in Daniel, Reformed Expository Commentary, explains:

In place of their good Hebrew and Yahwistic names, Daniel (‘God is my judge’), Hananiah (‘the Lord is gracious’), Mishael (‘Who is what God is?’), and Azariah (‘The Lord is a helper’), they were assigned pagan, Babylonian names: Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (1:7). These Babylonian names invoked the help of the Babylonian gods, Marduk, Bel, and Nebo, rather than Israel’s Lord.

As part of their training, the four Hebrew youths are fed the same food as the king. This was to presumably keep them healthy because the king would eat only the finest food. Daniel and his four friends, however, did not want to eat the king’s food because it was forbidden by the Mosaic Law. In what sense was the royal food forbidden? Stephen Miller offers the following:

At least two factors would have caused these religious Jews to be reluctant to eat the king’s food. First, many of the foods eaten at the Babylonian court (e.g., pork and horseflesh) would have been unclean according to the law of Moses (cf. Lev 11 and Deut 14), either inherently or because they were not prepared properly; for example, the blood might not have been drained from the meat (cf. Lev 17:13–14). To eat such foods would have been a sin for an Israelite and would have rendered the individual ceremonially unclean before God.

Second, the meat and wine would have been undesirable because a portion of it was (at least on occasions if not always) first offered sacrificially to the Babylonian gods before being sent to the king and was therefore associated with idolatrous worship. Although wine was not forbidden by the Jewish law, Daniel’s aversion to drinking it probably is to be explained by its use as a libation in these pagan rituals.

Daniel asks permission of Ashpenaz to eat only fruits, vegetables, grains, and bread, and only drink water, but Ashpenaz is reluctant to agree to his request because he fears the king will have him killed if he is malnourishing the king’s Hebrew trainees.

So Daniel then moves down the chain of command and proposes to the steward who is overseeing them a ten-day test. If Daniel and his friends look healthy after ten days, the steward would allow them to continue with their preferred diet. The steward agrees and indeed, after ten days, they are healthier looking than the other trainees who are eating the king’s food. Thus they are allowed to continue their diet.

As chapter 1 ends, we learn that God gifts the four Hebrew youths with extraordinary knowledge and wisdom. God also gives Daniel the ability to interpret visions and dreams. When the three years is over, the king tests them and he finds them to be superior to all of the other trainees. They are all given the privilege of serving the king as his advisors. As time moved on, they proved themselves to be Nebuchadnezzar’s most valued advisors. Daniel would remain in the king’s court for decades, serving several different rulers. Daniel was blessed with a long life, probably living for 85-90 years.

Although Daniel and his friends refused to defile themselves with the king’s food, they still accepted jobs in the pagan king’s service. What can we learn from Daniel’s decisions in this chapter? Iain Duguid writes,

They did not refuse to work for the Babylonians, perhaps because they recognized the hand of God in their situation. They understood the word that the Lord gave through Jeremiah, that those whom he had sent to Babylon should labor there for the blessing of the place in which they found themselves (Jer. 29:4–7). As far as possible these young men sought to work within the system in which they had been placed, being good citizens of Babylon as well as of heaven. They didn’t kick against the challenging providence of God, but rather accepted it as their present calling, with all of its trials, pains, and limitations. This reminds us that our calling is not to form Christian ghettoes that are isolated from the world around us. On the contrary, we should be active in pursuing the common good of the community in which God has placed us, whatever challenges may face us.