Reflections on the Old Testament: Daniel
It becomes evident very early on that the main point emphasized in the book of Daniel is that God alone grants knowledge, wisdom, and understanding. Moreover, all throughout the Bible we see a pattern in the men to whom God grants these great gifts—the key verse in the book of Daniel, for example, is: “Do not fear, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand, and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard….”(Daniel 10:12, NKJV.) 1) “Daniel set his heart to understand”: what exactly is meant by this statement? Jeremiah 17:9 denotes the heart as “wicked and deceitful above all things”—therefore, how can Daniel himself set his heart to understand? By surrendering it entirely to God. “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom,” Prov. 9:10. 2) “Daniel humbled himself before God”: in other words, he recognized his lowly estate, his unworthiness to receive the Holy Spirit, and surrendered himself as vile clay which the Potter might either cast out or form into a vessel according to His own sovereign will. The question is, how exactly did Daniel reach this stage? We know that the natural man, which Daniel most certainly was, of himself, is not so constituted as to reach a state of total submission and humility. We must assume a divine intervention.
In other words, Daniel was a chosen vessel, which God lovingly and mercifully formed and equipped with the necessary disposition to fulfill a specific purpose. It is crucial to understand that Daniel was simply a man—a sinner, condemned to death—but by the grace of God, he received the Holy Spirit (this is verified numerous times throughout the book of Daniel—see Daniel 4:8-9, Daniel 5:14) and became a “greatly beloved,” (Daniel 9:23). As for Daniel’s purpose, or “gift,” as the Apostle Paul would say, it is obvious that God granted to him “the skill to understand.” One may argue, however, that this is the role of the Holy Spirit in each one of us. And so it is—but to each one of us it reveals a specific branch of understanding. Daniel’s gift was to understand visions. God revealed to him the meaning of the king’s dreams as well as secrets of the end times, giving him power not only to understand the visions, but to understand their purpose: “But as for me, this secret has not been revealed to me because I have more wisdom than anyone living, but for our sakes who make known the interpretation to the king, and that you may know the thoughts of your heart,” Daniel 2:30. O foolish wretches that we are! What reason have we to be haughty? When will we realize that we are not granted understanding because of our own wisdom, but because we are instruments of God’s will? And when will we realize that we are not instruments of God’s will because of our own righteousness, but because of God’s great mercies? (See Daniel 9:18.) We stand astonished at Daniel’s humility, at his constant, untiring devotion to God. But to see the visions God showed him! If, by experience alone, a man can be utterly and permanently humbled, Daniel’s experiences would certainly have done so. To see the Ancient of Days enthroned, to hear the doom of the latter days, sealed and irrevocable, to converse with archangels and observe visions that leave one faint and sick for days—oh! How little we know! How small and insignificant we are in the grander scheme of things! As pious Christians, we greatly admire and often attempt to imitate the praises that Moses, King David, the prophets, and, yes, Daniel, offered up to the LORD—but seldom, if ever, do we realize their significance and truth as acutely as Daniel did. Studying the supernatural experiences of Daniel gives us an enlightened perspective of his words and actions throughout the book.
The point of this discourse is by no means to belittle Daniel or to suggest that, under the right circumstances, “anyone can be a Daniel,” but simply to emphasize the basic truth that man does not obtain greatness by his own merit but by the will of God. God made Daniel a great man. God made him one of the elite, out of all His servants, not because he was “special,” but because such was God’s sovereign will. It is essential to understand that Daniel, himself, was merely a man. It is essential to understand that God raises up whom He will and lowers whom He will, but we are all members of the same Body—members of a glorious, perfect Body, in which there is no place for pride. “If your right hand causes you to sin,” the Lord tacitly commands, “cut it off.” Understanding that it is not by any merit of our own that we are granted righteousness and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, we can only humbly receive that which the Lord Jesus mercifully bestows upon us and, like Daniel, dutifully fulfill the task apportioned to us—keeping this truth ever in mind: “But as for me, this secret has not been revealed to me because I have more wisdom than anyone living, but for our sakes who make known the interpretation to the king, and that you may know the thoughts of your heart,” (Daniel 2:30). Let us understand that spiritual gifts are not earned, but given (hence the name) by God for our own sakes and for the sakes of those to whom we minister. Another testament of God’s mercy.
Daniel is a humbling book. From Nebuchadnezzar’s seven years in the wilderness to Daniel’s visions of the end times, it reminds us just how small we are and how utterly dependent we are upon God. It reminds us that the “Most High rules in the kingdom of men and gives it to whomever He chooses,” (Dan. 4:25), that He “holds your breath in His hand and owns all your ways,” (Dan. 5:23), and that “to us belongs shame of face, to our kings, our princes, and our fathers, because we have sinned against You. To the Lord our God belong mercy and forgiveness, though we have rebelled against Him,” (Dan. 9:8-9).
I will conclude with a selection of verses which ought to get the point across better than anything I can say:
“Daniel answered and said: ‘Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, for wisdom and might are His. And He changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and raises up kings; He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding. He reveals deep and secret things; He knows what is in the darkness, and light dwells with Him. I thank You and praise You, O God of my fathers; You have given me wisdom and might, and have now made known to me what we asked of You, for You have made known to us the king’s demand,’” Daniel 2:20-23, NKJV.
“This decision is by the decree of the watchers, and the sentence by the word of the holy ones, in order that the living may know that the Most High rules in the kingdom of men, gives it to whomever He will, and sets over it the lowest of men,” Daniel 4:17, NKJV.
“I have heard of you, that the Spirit of God is in you, and that light and understanding and excellent wisdom are found in you,” Daniel 5:14, NKJV.
“I was watching; and the same horn was making war against the saints, and prevailing against them, until the Ancient of Days came, and a judgment was made in favor of the saints of the Most High, and the time came for the saints to possess the kingdom,” Daniel 7:21-22, NKJV.
“O my God, incline Your ear and hear; open Your eyes and see our desolations, and the city which is called by Your name; for we do not present our supplications before You because of our righteous deeds, but because of Your great mercies,” Daniel 9:18, NKJV.
“…And at that time your people shall be delivered, everyone who is found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament, and those who turn many to righteousness like the stars forever and ever,” Daniel 12:1-3, NKJV.“Many shall be purified, made white, and refined, but the wicked shall do wickedly; and none of the wicked shall understand, but the wise shall understand,” Daniel 12:10, NKJV.