The Book of Daniel is the story of the Jewish people in exile, longing to return to the Land of Israel. Part of the book is even written in Aramaic, reflecting the language that was spoken in Babylon during the exile.
The book opens with the exile of Daniel and his contemporaries from the Holy Land to Babylon. There, he and his contemporaries are chosen to serve in Nebuchadnezzar’s court. When Daniel succeeds at interpreting the king’s dream, he is promoted to a high position. Daniel serves in the royal court throughout the rule of Nebuchadnezzar until the downfall of Babylon in the days of Belshazzar, Nebuchadnezzar’s grandson and retains a position of power even when Darius of Media ascends the throne.
Daniel is an extremely righteous and talented leader. When Darius’ officials try to incriminate him, “they could find no occasion nor fault; forasmuch as he was faithful, neither was there any error or fault found in him”(Daniel 6:5). Throughout the second half of the book, Daniel mourns the destruction of the Temples and all the exiles the Jews are to experience, and grieves over all the suffering they bring with them.
The book of Daniel tells of the dangers of exile, both physical and spiritual, encountered in foreign lands. Throughout the book, there are various attempts made to sever the Jews’ connection with their God and their land. Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah are thrown into a furnace when they refuse to worship Nebuchadnezzar’s idol. Daniel is thrown into a lions’ den when he continues to pray to God, contrary to the king’s decree. These righteous leaders are saved miraculously each time, showing the Jews that God has not abandoned them. This reassures the Jewish people that they are still connected to the Lord despite the exile, and will one day return to the Land of Israel as He promised.
The book is full of visions regarding the first exile, Nebuchadnezzar’s rule, and all subsequent exiles until the arrival of the Messiah. The Jews in exile are encouraged when they see that Nebuchadnezzar receives divine retribution for having destroyed Jerusalem and its Temple. They see that the words of the prophets are indeed fulfilled when Babylon’s rule is ended suddenly after seventy years, just as Jeremiah had predicted before they left the Land of Israel (Jeremiah 29:10). In the middle of a feast celebrating the fact that God has forsaken the Jews in this foreign land, Belshazzar sees the “writing on the wall,” showing that God has indeed calculated the seventy years, and that Babylon will be overrun by the Persian and Median empires.
The second half of the book is made up of the prophetic visions that Daniel received during this time period. The visions are graphic and often ominous, foretelling the future exiles and suffering that the Jewish people will endure. At the same time, the visions are vague and obscure, allowing for various interpretations and fulfillment.
The medieval Rabbi Judah Halevi writes in his philosophical work, The Kuzari, that as a general rule prophecy can only be received in the Land of Israel. Daniel, however, was able to receive prophetic visions in Babylon because they were about, and for the sake of, the Land of Israel. They foretold the return of the Jews to their homeland in the time of the second Temple, as well as their ultimate return at the end of days. These prophecies encouraged Daniel and the Jews of his generation, and they continue to encourage Jews for all ages.
Throughout history the Jewish people have been persecuted in foreign lands. The Book of Daniel is a study of Jewish survival in exile and ultimate redemption.