Who was Daniel the prophet? What can we learn about his personal life and the prophecies God revealed to him about the end times ahead of us now?
When did Daniel live, and when was the book of Daniel written?
The biblical account of Daniel the prophet begins as he and other young men from Judah were taken captive by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon (Daniel 1:1-4) in approximately 604 B.C. This captivity of citizens of Judah in Babylon lasted for 70 years, as God had foretold through the prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 25:11).
During this time, Daniel served in prominent positions in the governments of several Babylonian and Medo-Persian rulers, including Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, Darius and Cyrus.
In the first year of the reign of Darius (around 539 B.C.), Daniel came to understand, or simply proved to himself again, the prophecy of Jeremiah that predicted a 70-year captivity of his people (Daniel 9:1-2). The end of the 70 years was approaching at that time.
Daniel was likely in his 80s or 90s by that time. He lived a long life, but the Bible does not tell us how old he was when he died.
Daniel wrote the book of Daniel during the sixth century B.C. Because the book of Daniel contains so many detailed prophecies of things that happened centuries later, some skeptics have suggested that it is a fraud, written much later in history.
But revealing the future is what God does.
Through Isaiah, God declares: “Remember the former things of old, for I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like Me, declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times things that are not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will do all My pleasure’” (Isaiah 46:9-10).
Was Daniel married?
There is no reference in Scripture to Daniel being married. As such, some have wondered if he was a eunuch.
Was Daniel a eunuch?
Eunuchs—men who have been castrated—often served in the administrations of kings during the time of Daniel. Some have wondered if Daniel was a eunuch because the book of Daniel mentions the young princes from Judah were under the supervision of “Ashpenaz, the master of his [Nebuchadnezzar’s] eunuchs” (Daniel 1:3).
This reference does not necessarily mean that the four young Jewish boys were eunuchs themselves. Ashpenaz was a member of the court who the king knew could be trusted to perform important duties, such as instruction of the princes in the ways of their host nation.
John Calvin’s commentary on Daniel mentions, “‘The chief of the eunuchs’ seems the correct definition of his office … and the office is similar to that … exercised at the courts of Turkey and Persia as the kislar agha, ‘high-chamberlain of the palace.’ So much confidence was necessarily reposed in these domestic officers, that many affairs of the utmost importance and delicacy were [entrusted] to their care. Thus the children of the royal and noble families of Judea were committed to the care of Aspenaz.”
Earlier in the history of the kingdom of Judah we find Hezekiah—king of Judah—unwisely showed the treasures of his house to the emissaries of the king of Babylon (Isaiah 39:2). God inspired Isaiah to pronounce a prophecy about his descendants:
“Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, ‘Hear the word of the LORD of hosts: “Behold, the days are coming when all that is in your house, and what your fathers have accumulated until this day, shall be carried to Babylon; nothing shall be left,” says the LORD. “And they shall take away some of your sons who will descend from you, whom you will beget; and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon”’” (verses 5-7).
While Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah are not specifically mentioned as descendants of Hezekiah, the prophecy was made during the time that Baladan was king of Babylon. This was approximately 100 years before their departure to Babylon under King Nebuchadnezzar.
Though there were restrictions in Israel attached to being a eunuch (Leviticus 21:16-20), Jesus Christ shows that even if they were eunuchs, the attitude shown by people like Daniel and his three friends is the same attitude that will enable us to be part of the Kingdom of God:
“For there are eunuchs who were born thus from their mother’s womb, and there are eunuchs who were made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the kingdom of heaven’s sake. He who is able to accept it, let him accept it” (Matthew 19:12).
Throughout the centuries, God has drawn people to be part of His Kingdom who have faced severe adversity. Daniel was one of these people who was counted as righteous (Ezekiel 14:14). To be removed from his homeland and taken to a foreign country probably in his teens must have been traumatic.
Daniel’s life, however, was to become an example for all of us. Hebrews 11:33-34 mentions some of the faithful who await the resurrection “who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword.”
These circumstances include what Daniel faced in the den of lions, and what his three friends faced when thrown into the fiery furnace.
The meaning of the name Daniel
Daniel is a Hebrew name meaning “God is my judge” (International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, “Daniel”).
The real names of Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego
Daniel’s three Jewish friends who were taken captive with him were Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. These three friends’ names were changed by the Babylonians to Shadrach, Meshach and Abed-Nego, respectively. Daniel was given the name “Belteshazzar” (Daniel 1:6-7). These names incorporated the names of Babylonian gods.
The reason Daniel and his friends’ names were changed was likely to encourage them to forget their past and to adopt Babylonian customs. Expositor’s Bible Commentary notes: “Obviously, pagan theophoric names like these must have been assigned arbitrarily to these four Israelite students without any consultation with them, since the new names contained the names of false gods” (ed. Frank Gaebelein).
But Daniel and his three friends determined to remain faithful to God. This would be demonstrated multiple times in the events told in the book of Daniel.
Daniel, a faithful man of God
The book of Daniel shows him to be a faithful man of God. Rather than defile themselves with food provided by King Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel and his three friends chose to eat vegetables and water instead.
God blessed their effort and after a 10-day test, their appearances were found to be healthy by the steward who had been appointed over their care (Daniel 1:8-15).
When King Nebuchadnezzar threatened to destroy all the wise men if one of them didn’t tell him his dream and interpret it, Daniel and his friends asked for time so he and his three friends could beseech God in prayer to reveal this information (Daniel 2:18). When God answered his prayer, Daniel remembered to praise and thank God for giving them what they had requested (verses 20-23).
Later, Daniel again demonstrated his faith by praying to God even though he knew that doing so would endanger his life! “Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed [that no one could petition any god or man except the king for 30 days], he went home. And in his upper room, with his windows open toward Jerusalem, he knelt down on his knees three times that day, and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as was his custom since early days” (Daniel 6:10).
Daniel’s faithfulness to God landed him in a lion’s den, where his detractors were sure he would be devoured. But God sent an angel that “shut the lions’ mouths,” and Daniel was miraculously spared.Daniel’s faithfulness to God landed him in a lion’s den, where his detractors were sure he would be devoured. But God sent an angel that “shut the lions’ mouths” (Daniel 6:22), and Daniel was miraculously spared.
On another occasion the record shows Daniel praying and fasting for his people’s sins and asking for God’s mercy on himself, his fellow captives and the inhabitants of Jerusalem (Daniel 9).
The record of Daniel’s righteous conduct is not confined to the book he authored. God, through the prophet Ezekiel, stated: “‘Even if these three men, Noah, Daniel, and Job, were in it, they would deliver only themselves by their righteousness,’ says the Lord GOD” (Ezekiel 14:14, emphasis added).
Daniel given knowledge, skill and understanding from God
God saw these fruits of Daniel and his three friends and gave them knowledge and skill in all literature and wisdom. To Daniel, God also gave understanding in all visions and dreams (Daniel 1:17). As a result of God’s blessings upon Daniel and his three friends, the king “found them ten times better than all the magicians and astrologers who were in all his realm” (verse 20).
When King Nebuchadnezzar had a dream that troubled him in the second year of his reign, God revealed the meaning of the dream to Daniel in a night vision (Daniel 2:19). “Then the king promoted Daniel and gave him many great gifts; and he made him ruler over the whole province of Babylon, and chief administrator over all the wise men of Babylon” (Daniel 2:48).
At times, God sent an angel to deliver prophetic messages to Daniel, who then copied them down.
“Then it happened, when I, Daniel, had seen the vision and was seeking the meaning, that suddenly there stood before me one having the appearance of a man. And I heard a man’s voice between the banks of the Ulai, who called, and said, ‘Gabriel, make this man understand the vision.’ So he came near where I stood, and when he came I was afraid and fell on my face; but he said to me, ‘Understand, son of man, that the vision refers to the time of the end’” (Daniel 8:15-17).
Additional accounts of an angel coming to Daniel are found in Daniel 9:20-23 and Daniel 10:5-14.
Beloved and chosen by God to foretell future events, Daniel the prophet prophesied as moved by God through visions and dreams about what was going to happen throughout history, including what would happen to Daniel’s people in the “latter days” (Daniel 10:14) and to the whole world.
Here are a few of the prominent prophecies given by God through Daniel:
- Four world-ruling empires. In a dream given to King Nebuchadnezzar, God revealed through Daniel that there would be four world-ruling empires (Daniel 2:1-43). Historically, these have proven to be the Babylonian, Medo-Persian, Greco-Macedonian and Roman Empires. Emphasizing the surety of this prophecy, God also gave Daniel a vision in which these empires were represented by four great beasts (Daniel 7:1-3).
- The Kingdom of God. After telling King Nebuchadnezzar that there would be four world-ruling kingdoms, Daniel further prophesied: “And in the days of these kings [during the time of human government] the God of heaven will set up a kingdom which shall never be destroyed; and the kingdom shall not be left to other people; it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand forever” (Daniel 2:44).
In the repetition of the prophecy about human world-ruling empires, Daniel further noted: “I was watching in the night visions, and behold, One like the Son of Man, coming with the clouds of heaven! He came to the Ancient of Days, and they brought Him near before Him. Then to Him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve Him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and His kingdom the one which shall not be destroyed” (Daniel 7:13-14).
For further study, see our article “What Is the Kingdom of God?”
- A little horn. In God’s vision to Daniel of four beasts, representing four world-ruling kingdoms, the fourth beast “had ten horns” (Daniel 7:7), which we have traditionally understood to represent 10 appearances of this fourth kingdom. Explaining what he had seen, Daniel wrote: “I was considering the horns, and there was another horn, a little one, coming up among them, before whom three of the first horns were plucked out by the roots. And there, in this horn, were eyes like the eyes of a man, and a mouth speaking pompous words” (verse 8).
This little horn that Daniel in vision saw “making war against the saints, and prevailing against them” (verse 21) is a religious power that will persecute God’s people at the end of this age (verses 24-25). Known by multiple names—the antichrist, the man of sin and the false prophet—this religious power will play a prominent role in the deception of mankind prior to Christ’s return.
For further study, see the article “Antichrist.”
- The 70-weeks prophecy. In Daniel 9:24-27 we find a prophecy that predicted the year—A.D. 27—that Jesus would begin His ministry. The prophecy also predicted that Jesus’ ministry to “confirm the covenant” would be cut off “in the middle” of the 70th prophetic week. The biblical record shows that this occurred after 3½ years, just as Daniel had prophesied.
For further study, see “70 Weeks of Daniel: What Does the Prophecy Mean?”
- Abomination of desolation. Chapter 11 covers prophecies that would be fulfilled from the time of the Medo-Persian Empire through the end time. After providing specific details regarding the successive kingdoms, we come to verse 31, where we read of daily sacrifices being taken away and of an “abomination of desolation” that would be placed in the temple. These events, which included a suppression of the truth and a defilement of the temple, took place during the time of the Maccabees and were a type of a future fulfillment that will occur before the return of Christ (Matthew 24:14-15).
For further study, see the article “Abomination of Desolation: What Is It?”
- The time of the end. Beginning in Daniel 11:40, we read of events that will transpire “at the time of the end.” This includes conflict around Jerusalem between “the king of the North” and “the king of the South.” Before concluding his book, Daniel also refers to a severe “time of trouble” (Daniel 12:1), which is referred to as “great tribulation” in Matthew 24:21.
- Resurrection of the dead. We don’t often find references to the resurrection of the dead in the Old Testament, but this occurs in Daniel 12:2. Here Daniel writes: “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt.”
Daniel’s prophecies sealed
Even though Daniel prophesied during the early part of the sixth century B.C., his prophecies were sealed until the end time. Similar to the instruction he had received to “seal up” a vision he had been given earlier (Daniel 8:26), Daniel was again told, “But you, Daniel, shut up the words, and seal the book until the time of the end; many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall increase” (Daniel 12:4).
To study more about the end times, read the articles in the “End Times” section, the articles in the section on the book of “Revelation,” and the articles in the section on the book of “Daniel.”