In chapter 6 we enter the Persian era. The Persians were more tolerant of religious diversity than the Babylonians were (recall that it was Cyrus who allowed the people of Judah to return to their land and rebuild their Temple), which makes the story of the lion’s den an odd one.
We are not told how Daniel distinguished himself in the eyes of the Persian emperor, but only that he was made one of three “presidents” to whom the 120 satraps would report. We can recognize the scheming of his fellow leaders as typical of office politics in any age! Darius’s edict condemned Daniel to the lion’s den even though Darius favored Daniel because the Persians understood an edict of the emperor to be immutable. Even if he did not fully anticipate the consequences, Darius must accept them because his word cannot be revoked. As you read the account of the lion’s den it is also good to remember that this was written during a period of persecution.
Notice that as in the case of the three friends in the firey furnace, an angel shows up to save the day. It was during the Persian period that angels became more prominent in Jewish thought. It was also during this period that some concepts, like the “one like a human being” or the “Son of Man,” that would later become prominent in Messianic thought developed.
The beasts in chapter 7 represent four successive kingdoms. The lion is Babylon. Notice that it gained a “human mind.” This could refer to the prediction that Nebuchadnezzar would regain his senses after a period of living like an animal. The bear is the Medes. The leopard is the Perians. And the “terrifying and dreadful” final beast is the the Greeks. Take a look at verse 14. As a Christian this should sound like a prediction of Christ. Daniel likely had in mind an angel or some other cosmic figure. Nevertheless, this is precisely the kind of imagery that slowly developed during the inter-testamental period into an expectation that God would send a cosmic savior.
In 7:25 you see a gesture toward the persecution during the time in which Daniel was written. “He shall speak words against the Most High” refers to Antiochus IV Epiphanes who tried to eliminate Jewish practices such as keeping kosher and circumcision. He “shall wear out the holy ones of the Most High” likely refers to the persecutions. The people are promised that after three and a half years the kingdom of Judah will be restored. Under Judas Maccabeus, it was. Briefly.
Chapter 8 returns us to Hebrew. (We’ve been in Aramaic since chapter 2.) This vision is also a reference to the history that leads up to the mid-second century. Alexander the Great is great horn of the male goat, which is replaced by four lesser horns. This refers to the four generals who divided Alexander’s kingdom after his death. The “transgression that makes desolate” in verse 13 probably refers to the image of himself that Antiochus set up in the Temple. Notice the role of Gabriel as protector of Israel and interpreter of visions.
Finally, take a look at the last line of 8:25: “He shall be broken, and not by human hands.” What advice do you think Daniel would offer would-be revolutionaries like Judas Maccabeus?