Week 18 – Daniel in Exile

Scripture Readings:  Jeremiah 29-31; Daniel 1-3, 6

Significant Moments in “The Story”

God promises both that the exile will be lengthy but that Israel will return – Jeremiah 29

Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego – Daniel 3

Daniel in the lion’s den – Daniel 6

Key Themes

How to live in exile

In Jeremiah 29, God tells the people of Judah to build homes and raise families in Babylon because their stay there will be lengthy.  It seems that there were some prophets who were telling those who had been carried into exile that their stay in Babylon would be brief.  Jeremiah, still in Jerusalem at the time, sends those already a Babylon a letter assuring them that several generations will pass before the exile ends.  Now, separated both from the land that God had given to them and from the Temple where they worshiped and where they understood God’s presence to be centered, the exiles are faced with a challenging question:  can we still be God’s people when everything we have associated with that identity has been taken away?  The prophetic message of Jeremiah and the stories of Daniel paint a picture of what it would now mean to be God’s chosen people in exile.


Both Jeremiah and Daniel (Jeremiah 30-31, Daniel 2) see a time when the kingdom that has taken Israel captive will be no more.  The people of Israel needed to know that, though their sin had led to these dire events, God had not forsaken them.  The day would come when He would take them out of this foreign land and return them to their homes.  Israel would not disappear from the earth.  Their messages also served to put the reign of the Babylonians in perspective.  Though they were a dominating force now, they would not remain so.  The “big baddies” were not as big and invulnerable as they would be tempted to think.

Background Information

“Build houses and live in them; plant gardens and eat what they produce” – Jeremiah 29:5

Though it might be tempting to equate the exile with life in Egypt prior to the Exodus, the picture that we see in Scripture of exilic life would defy such comparisons.  The Biblical witness and historical evidence indicates that those who lived in exile in Babylon were given quite a bit of freedom, which included the freedom to build homes, make a living, and to continue to worship the God of Israel.  The understanding remained, however, that the people now belonged to the Babylonian Empire and were not independent.  However, we see several incidents of Israelites given responsibility and power within the Babylonian empire, including King Jehoiachin (2 Kings 25:27-30) and Daniel (Daniel 2, 6).  The primary struggle of the exile was thus not necessarily forced labor or harsh punishment by taskmasters.  Instead, the primary concern of Jeremiah and Ezekiel and Daniel would focus on how to maintain their unique identity as God’s people in a foreign land surrounded by an alien culture where the temptation to assimilate would be great.

“Because you have said, ‘The LORD has raised up prophets for us in Babylon’…” – Jeremiah 29:15

The exile to Babylon took place in at least 2, if not 3, stages.  The first stage took place in 597 BC, and it seems that the prophet Jeremiah was among those left behind in Judah.  Word seems to have gotten to him that there were prophets in Babylon who were telling the exiles there that their stay in Babylon would be short.  Jeremiah 29 contains a letter that Jeremiah sends to the exiles in Babylon to let them know that these prophets are not speaking the word of God.

A new covenant – Jeremiah 31:31-34

Our Christian Bibles are divided into two sections that we have come to call the Old Testament and the New Testament.  These identifications came in part out of the interpretation of this passage from Jeremiah by Paul and other Christian authors (2 Corinthians 3, Hebrews 8).  An interesting question to ask here, though, is to look at Jeremiah’s words on their own and ask the question what is “new”?  As we have already seen, the concepts of grace and forgiveness have certainly been central to the relationship of God with Israel to this point.  And there have been several references in the prophets to Israel’s need to understand that a right relationship with God is about more than ritual and obedience.  It would seem that Jeremiah is pointing to a work of God to transform our hearts and wills to make us more obedient and receptive to God’s love, issues that we have seen as great struggles in the story of Scripture so far.  What does this mean, how is this accomplished (especially as we consider the story of Christ), and how does this impact our understanding of “the old covenant”?


“The book of Daniel is arguably the most unusual book of the Hebrew Bible” (Daniel L. Smith-Christopher, New Interpreter’s Bible, volume 7, p. 19).

To understand why this statement is true, we must first understand that there is a great amount of discussion over how to read Daniel in the first place.  Is it actual history or is it a reinterpreting of other stories and events in a different time period?

The actual authorship of the book of Daniel is dated to some time around the 2nd century BC, some 400 years after the Babylonian exile.  As far as the person of Daniel, Ezekiel contains two references to a Daniel or Danel (Ezekiel 14:14, 28:3).  Some believe, based on these references, that Daniel was a pre-exilic figure, perhaps even dating back to before Israel’s entry into the Promised Land after the Exodus, who was known for his righteousness and wisdom.  This theory speculates that the stories of this early Daniel were translated into the context of the Babylonian exile for the purpose of offering hope to later generations.

But which generations was this book to offer hope to?  Though it is set in the time period of the Babylonian exile, its authorship is dated several centuries later.  The book of Daniel may have been written not to a community in exile in Babylon, but instead to a Jewish community that was facing persecution under the reign of Antiochus Epiphanes, a successor to Alexander the Great’s rule.  After Alexander conquered the Persian Empire, he began a movement to “Hellenize” the cultures of the lands he conquered, imposing Greek culture and language on the peoples, including the Jewish peoples.  In the years after Alexander’s death, his empire would be divided, and the Jews in Jerusalem would face various levels of pressure to accommodate to Greek culture.  Most significantly, Antiochus Epiphanes, between 167 and 164, would take drastic measures to force Greek ways onto the Jewish people.  These methods included forbidding Jewish religious practices, mandating the Jews to offer pagan sacrifices,  and erecting an altar to Zeus in the Temple.  The stories that we read of Daniel and his friends would strike a strong chord among the Jewish people during these events.

The book of Daniel is identified as apocalyptic literature, the only such literature of its kind in the Old Testament.  While we hear a term like “apocalyptic” and assume that it means the end of the world, this is not a fair understanding of apocalyptic literature.  It is better to describe apocalyptic literature as writing that is intended to give hope to a community during troubled times.  Using symbols and signs, apocalyptic literature is actually more concerned with interpreting current history than necessarily predicting future events, though a key component of apocalyptic literature is a message about the future as a time when the community’s tribulations and sorrows give way to victory and peace.  The book of Revelation in the New Testament is another example of apocalyptic literature.

When one reads the book of Daniel, there are two very clear divisions in the book.  Chapters 1-6 contain stories of Daniel and his friends, righteous and wise, remaining faithful under pressure to assimilate to the ways of Babylon.  These stories paint a clear picture of the value of faithfulness.  Chapters 7-12 contain a series of 4 visions in which the present and future are interpreted to assure the community that their time of struggle will not last and that God will ultimately be victorious over those who would seek to defy Him.

Though the book of Daniel may not have been written during the exile or written for an exilic community, it’s setting during the Babylonian exile is intentional and helps us to understand that the greatest threat that the exilic community faced was not necessarily bondage or persecution but the threat of losing their unique identity as a nation and as the people of God.  This threat would remain for Israel long after they had returned from Babylon.

Darius the Mede – Daniel 6

Though history tells us that there were several who claimed the name of King Darius, these kings were Persian kings, not Median kings.  The first foreign king to rule over the Babylonian empire was Cyrus, who allowed the Jewish people to return home.  Thus, it is difficult to place the exact identity of Darius the Mede or his place in the timeline of rulers of Babylon.


Additional Resources


Week 17 – The Kingdoms’ Fall

Scripture Reading:  2 Kings 21; 2 Chronicles 33; 2 Kings 23-25; 2 Chronicles 36; Jeremiah 1-2, 4-5, 13, 21; Lamentations 1-3, 5; Ezekiel 1-2, 6-7, 36-37

Significant Moments in The Story

The reign of Manasseh – 2 Kings 21, 2 Chronicles 33

Josiah’s reforms – 2 Kings 22-23

The fall of Jerusalem and the first deportation to Babylon – 2 Kings 24

Jerusalem utterly destroyed and the final deportation to Babylon – 2 Kings 25, 2 Chronicles 36

Key Themes

Worse than the Canaanites

The 55 year reign of King Manasseh in Judah is viewed as perhaps the darkest moment in Judah’s history.  According to 2 Chronicles 33:9, under Manasseh the Israelites “… did more evil than the nations whom the LORD had destroyed before the people of Israel.”  In Joshua, God had said that part of the reason He was giving the Promised Land to the Israelites was because of the wickedness of the people who had lived in the land up until that point.  Now, Israel has become even more wicked than those they took the land over for.  The Biblical narrative paints a very dark picture of how deep Israel’s sin is, so deep that not even the righteous reforms of Josiah can make a difference in the long term.  The destruction of Jerusalem and Judah is thus portrayed as a punishment consistent with that which God had handed down on the peoples who inhabited the land before the Israelites.

Exile, a time of lament and a time of hope

The Babylonian exile was as transformative a moment in Israel’s history as the Exodus.  However, whereas the Exodus was a moment of celebration and victory, exile would be a moment of great pain and suffering.  That pain would be physical (great loss of life and destruction of poverty), emotional (great sorrow among all the people), and spiritual (a feeling of being cut off from God).  The words of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, the two primary prophets associated with this period, contain both messages of the harshness of Israel’s plight and the hope that did remain even in the face of great suffering.  In many ways, the exile takes place within the shadow of the Exodus – God will not allow His people to remain in captivity to this foreign nation.

Background Information

Josiah’s reform – 2 Kings 22-23

Josiah was the grandson of King Manasseh, the worst of the kings to sit on the throne of Judah according to Scripture.  In 2 Kings 22, we are told that a rebuilding and restoration of the Temple is under way under King Josiah’s reign.  During the work, “the book of the law” is found, probably a copy of the book of Deuteronomy.  This is brought before King Josiah and read.  According to 2 Kings 22, Josiah’s weeps as the book is read, which calls for curses to be upon Israel if they are unwilling to follow all the commands of God.  This instigates the reforms that Josiah carries out in 2 Kings 23.  Interestingly enough, the “reward” for Josiah’s repentance and his efforts to restore obedience in righteousness is that he will not be alive when the curses that are coming take place.

The exile to Babylon

The fall of Jerusalem and Judah took place in stages.  We believe that the date of the events of 2 Kings 24 take place around 597 BC.  At this time, much of the wealth within the Temple was carried off and most of the royal officers and military leaders were carried into exile.  Those that remained in Judah were ruled over by Zedekiah, the uncle of King Jehoiachin who was appointed to rule as a governor of the King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.  Eventually Zedekiah revolted against the Babylonians, bringing a follow up attack on Judah in 587 BC, which resulted in the destruction of the Temple and the remaining inhabitants carried off into exile.


General Introduction to Each Book

 The books of Jeremiah and Ezekiel deal with roughly the same time period, namely the time before and after the fall of Jerusalem. While Jeremiah remains in Jerusalem until the final fall of Jerusalem in 587/6, Ezekiel seems to have gone into exile after the first Babylonian attack on Jerusalem in 597.


1) Jeremiah


  • Literature of Trauma
    • The structure of the book is disjointed and difficult to discern
      • One scholar has suggested that this reflects the fracturing of memory that results from trauma
    • Lots of emotions! Jeremiah laments and complains, as do God and the people
    • The book does not offer one clear explanation of why the exile happened but instead tries out several explanations
  • Form of Jeremiah
    • The book of Jeremiah developed over time; it has been added to by different people and communities as an ongoing reflection on the exile
  • The prophetic persona
    • The book of Jeremiah is unusual for its amount of attention to Jeremiah himself. The book includes biographical prose sections as well as autobiographical laments and poetry.


2) Ezekiel


  • In contrast to Jeremiah, Ezekiel has a clear literary structure (1-24, 25-32 and 33-48) and seems to have been created as a unified book
  • Ezekiel is a very different prophet than Jeremiah; whereas Jeremiah shows lots of emotions, Ezekiel shows next to none
  • The book includes a lot of sign acts and fantastical visions
    • Sign acts (which also appear in Jeremiah) are times when God commands the prophet to do something, then explains the meaning of the action (for example, Ezekiel paints Jerusalem on the side of a brick, then destroys the brick)
    • Visions: Ezekiel’s visions include wheels with eyes, living creatures with many faces, and lots of lightening. Though strange to us, Ezekiel uses visions to interpret history in light of God’s glory
    • Ezekiel also has a long vision that focuses on the restoration of the temple that should put you in mind of the description of the tabernacle in Exodus




Questions to consider for study of Jeremiah 18:


Who are the characters?

What is the setting?

Who says what?

Are there clear units in the writing? How would you break it up?

Can you see any repeated words or themes?

Does this passage call to mind other parts of the Book of Jeremiah?

What questions do you have about the passage?


Jeremiah 18:1-12


  1. The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD: 2. “Come, go down to the potter’s house, and there I will let you hear my words.” 3. So I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was working at his wheel. 4. The vessel he was making of clay was spoiled in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.
  2. Then the word of the LORD came to me: 6. Can I not do with you, O house of Israel, just as this potter has done? says the LO RD. Just like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel. 7. At one moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom, that I will pluck up and break down and destroy it, 8. but if that nation, concerning which I have spoken, turns from its evil, I will change my mind about the disaster that I intended to bring on it. 9. And at another moment I may declare concerning a nation or a kingdom that I will build and plant it, 10. but if it does evil in my sight, not listening to my voice, then I will change my mind about the good that I had intended to do to it. 11. Now, therefore, say to the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem: Thus says the LORD: Look, I am a potter shaping evil against you and devising a plan against you. Turn now, all of you from your evil way, and amend your ways and your doings. 12. But they say, “It is no use! We will follow our own plans, and each of us will act according to the stubbornness of our evil will.”