Faithful Living in a Pagan Society
Daniel was one of the Israelites exiled and living in Babylon after the fall of Jerusalem to Nebuchadnezzar in the sixth century B.C. They no longer lived in a secure believing society, under a believing cultural establishment. This book then gives guidance to those who live in a religiously pluralistic society which is at best indifferent and at worst positively hostile to faith in the true and only God. The Israelites in the book of Judges lived among pagans as semi-autonomous tribal societies in an agrarian culture. But the exiles lived as individuals in an urban culture. Thus they are much ‘closer’ to our condition, and their experience is somewhat easier to apply. The message of Daniel is that “God is sovereign. He overrules and eventually will overcome human evil.” (Dillard and Longman, An Intro to the OT, p.348)
Broader Historical Background
Under Moses, God entered into a covenant relationship with them as a nation (see Exod.19-24 and the renewal in Deuteronomy). God warned Israel that if they fell into disobedience and idolatry, the result would be a loss of national sovereignty and exile (Deut.28). This disobedience led to the exile of the northern tribes of Israel by Assyria in 722 B.C. Though Judah was spared, but it remained under the shadow of Assyria and had to pay it tribute. As the last good king of Judah, Josiah, lay dying, the Babylonian empire was rising to displace Assyria as the dominant world power. It claimed sovereignty over Judah.
Egypt, which wanted to control Judah, put Jehoiakim (son of Josiah) on the throne. But it could not help when Nebuchanezzar invaded and claimed Israel as a vassal state (2 Kings 24:1). The Babylonians took back to Babylon many of the treasures of the temple and also a good number of Jews who were in the aristocratic and intellectual elite. Daniel was part of this first group of exiles (Dan.1:1-5) Then, in 597 B.C. Jehoiakim renounced his obedience to Babylon and looked to Egypt for protection (2 Kings 24:7). But Babylon retaliated and moved on Jerusalem.
Jehoiakim died (mysteriously–perhaps assassinated) and his 18 year old son Jehoiachin succeeded him and surrendered after a short siege. This time the Babylonians took the whole ‘professional’ class of Judah to Babylon in exile–10,000 of the military officers, the artists, and the scholars. The purpose of this was of course to essentially destroy the distinctive Biblical culture of the Jews–to assimilate them intellectually, socially, culturally, and spiritually. Finally, the remaining king in Israel, Zedekiah, revolted in 587 B.C. This time Nebuchadnezzar razed the walls and the temple and exiled most all of Judah’s inhabitants.
Three Ways to Relate to the World
The exile was a severe test for the faith of the Jews. How would they relate to the pagan society around them? The ‘exilic’ literature of the Bible shows us the different paths that were open to them. We will compare them before launching into our study of the book of Daniel proper. This way we will better see the path being laid for us out by Daniel.