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Daniel, the (Lonely) Prophet

As for these four youths, God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom, and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams. Daniel 1:17

In the second year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, Nebuchadnezzar had dreams; his spirit was troubled, and his sleep left him. Daniel 2:1

One Wild Chapter

Over the last three posts, we explored two exceptional features of Daniel 2. First, God made His secrets known to a Gentile king—and not just any Gentile king, but the King of Babylon. Second, God brought out the interpretation through someone who didn’t seem to be a prophet at all, Daniel, an unknown official-in-training (compare Dan. 1:1 to Dan. 2:1). Daniel’s rise was sudden and obscure, contrasting with every prophet before him. Even Joseph was known and summoned for his prophetic ability, but Daniel’s debut appears to have been completely unanticipated by everyone, including himself (compare Gen. 41:15 to Dan. 2:17–18). The king’s dream and the instantaneous prophet both point out that something big is happening in this chapter.

Scripture designates Daniel as a prophet (Mt. 24:15), but that doesn’t mean Daniel didn’t wonder how things were playing out at times. His perplexity would have been justified because his ministry not only seemed to lack divine commission, but it seemed to lack an audience as well.

No Audience

The traditional role of the prophet was simple and straightforward. As ambassadors of a divine King, the prophets went where they were sent and gave the message they were told to give (Ex. 4:21–23; Jer. 1:17–18). As far as we know, Daniel never did this, and for good reason. God was removing Israel as His public testimony and retrieving His kingdom from earth into heaven (compare 1 Sam. 17:45–47 to Dan. 2:28). Prior to this, the LORD, the King of Israel (1 Chr. 29:23; Isa. 6:5), ruled Israel and involved Himself in the affairs of His people and the nations around them. The prophets of this period routinely traveled to gentile nations representing the LORD of Hosts to the kings of the earth (Jer. 1:5; Jon. 1:1–2). All of this ended with Israel’s removal and subsequent captivity in Babylon; God no longer reigned as a King upon the earth and therefore no longer sent out His ambassadors, the prophets.

Daniel and the prophets after him spoke about world events but never as ambassadors of a divine King or a present, earthly kingdom (compare Amos 1 to Zech. 9–10). God was still “a great King” (Mal. 1:14), but His thoughts would now come to Israel as an estranged, enslaved people awaiting a future kingdom.

 The Nationless Prophet

Daniel was the forerunner of this new era of prophecy. He never carried divine decrees from Israel’s King but instead explained enigmatic messages for foreign overlords (compare 1 Ki. 19:15; Jer. 27:2–3 to Dan. 4:9; 5:15–16). Later in life, he saw visions that were addressed to no one but himself, containing information that was clearly for Israel but never mentioned Israel by name. In all of these cases, his involvement is that of a spectator and a student—seeing and seeking understanding, trying to live for God in the aftermath of Israel’s apostasy.

Off the Beaten Track

God was doing something new and different in Daniel 2. His men and methods were unexpected and unconventional, but all this novelty would pale in comparison with the message He was about to reveal through the king’s dream. Perhaps we can tackle that subject in our next post.


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