Chapter 4 begins, unexpectedly, as a first person account by Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar addresses all the people of the world in a circular letter informing them of the greatness of the Hebrew God. The king tells ho the "magicians, enchanters, astrologers, and diviners" of Babylon were unable to interpret a troubling dream that he had. Not surprisingly, Daniel got the job done. The dream, which featured a mighty tree that was cut down and a mysterious announcement by a heavenly being called a "watcher," meant that Nebuchadnezzar would lose his sanity and live like an animal for "seven times." Daniel encourages the king to repent and stop oppressing the poor. At verse 16 the narrative shifts to a third person account. One year later Nebuchadnezzar, full of pride at his power and possessions, is suddenly struck with madness and lives as an animal. At verse 31 the first person narrative resumes. Nebucahdnezzar tells how he recovered his senses and praises God.
A note in the New Interpreters Study Bible reads:
The story of Nebuchadnezzar's madness is originally derived from a tradition about Nabonidus (556–539 bce), the last king of the Neo- Babylonian Empire. This story may reflect, in a very distorted fashion, Nabonidus's self- imposed exile at Teima in the Arabian desert.
I mention this because chapter 5 is set in the court of Belshazzar. In the text Belshazzar is described as the son of Nebuchadnezzar when, in fact, he was the son of Nabonidus. He ruled as viceroy in Babylon briefly when his father was at Teima. Belshazzar has a banquet and serves his guests with the vessels taken from the Jerusalem temple. A hand appears and writes the mysterious word "MENE MENE TEKEL PARSIN" on the wall. Once again the sages of Babylon are of no use but Daniel is able to interpret the message. I'll let Johnny Cash sing about it because, hey, he's Johnny Cash.
Belshazzar dies. Darius the Mede takes the throne.
Outside of the book of Daniel there is no independent source for a historical person called Darius the Mede. Various names have been put forward. None is entirely convincing. The critical consensus seems to be that Darius the Mede was inserted here to fit the books scheme of history. In chapter 2 we read about Nebuchadnezzar's dream of a statue, the parts of which represented a succession of kingdoms: the Babylonians, Medes, Persians, and Greeks. Darius was inserted here because the author had a need...a need for Medes.
I'm sorry for that pun. I truly am.
At any rate, the historical discrepancies in the book of Daniel do not bother me because, as you should know by now, I don't take Daniel as a factual account of historical events.
In chapter 6 we have what is probably the most famous story from the book of Daniel. Darius makes our boy an adminstrator over some regional satraps. Not surprisingly, Daniel distinguishes himself above the other administrators and is due to become top man in the kingdom. Knowing that Daniel is a faithful Jew, the other administrators and the satraps conspire to destroy him by means of his faith. They convince Darius that it would be a good idea if he passed an edict making it a capital offense to pray to anyone other than Darius himself for a period of 30 days. Those who disobey are to be thrown to the lions. Daniel, naturally, prays to his God. In an echo of the story of Esther, the king's edict cannot be countermanded. So, against Darius's wishes, Daniel is tossed into a pit full of hungry lions. God preserves Daniel through the night. Darius happily frees him in the morning. Daniel's enemies, along with there wives and children, are thrown to lions instead. Those lions, no doubt hungrier than ever since they were denied a meal the night before, make short work of them.
We're told that Daniel prospered under Darius and Cyrus the Persian. It was Cyrus, of course, who allowed the deportees to return to Judea.
The moral to the stories in chapters 1-6: Be faithful and God will watch out for you.
The image of Robert Weaver's painting of Daniel in the Lions' Den came from this website. Next: Daniel 7-9