Daniel: Notes for Bible Study Groups, Part 4

Small Group 2Drawing from her own study of Daniel, the knowledge gained while serving as a teaching assistant for Prof. Iain Provan’s Regent College course on Daniel, and the insights gained through talks Carl Ellis gave at an InterVarsity conference, Kathy Cooper has compiled study notes for InterVarsity groups exploring Daniel. These notes are designed to be “plug and play.” While we’ll make some further study suggestions for those with extra time, these notes are designed to provide the basis for leading a thoughtful discussion about how Daniel applies to graduate student or faculty life even if a group has little extra prep time. These notes were designed for leading an inductive bible study discussion, but can be adapted for various bible study contexts. This is the final post in the series. For the first entry, click here. For the second, click here. For the third, visit this link

ESN is glad to share material by experienced InterVarsity staffers for campus groups this year; for more on what we’re sharing on the blog and why, see our fall blog lineup preview post.

Daniel 4

Review: If time, briefly review the story line so far. What have Daniel and his friends done so far, and how has God been faithful to them? How are they affected by being carried away in the Jewish exile in Babylon? Briefly review what we have seen of King Nebuchadnezzar so far—trace his character/story development.

Read passage: Daniel 4 (feel free to assign different parts to different readers, almost as if you’re reading a play.)

Textual Discussion Questions:

1. Daniel 4:1-18 What do you notice? What questions do you have? Whats surprising? Is there anything different in the narration from previous chapters?

This section features first-person narration. Nebuchadnezzar tells his story, from his point of view! He’s looking back on what happened to him, now from the standpoint of praise. Note: Daniel 4:3 parallels Psalm 145:13, so Nebuchadnezzar is actually echoing Scripture here, whether he knows it or not.

Can you think of another portion of scripture where a Gentile king tells his own story in the first person? This is very unusual.

2. Daniel 4:4: Word Note

When Nebuchadnezzar talks here about being prosperous, the text uses the word ra’anan (Aramaic). It can also be used of a plant flourishing. Nebuchadnezzar has another dream—it evokes the incident/dream in Ch. 2. Nebuchadnezzar calls all wise men and magicians again, then calls Daniel. Nebuchadnezzar may be taking a while to learn that he should call Daniel first.

3. In verse 8, Nebuchadnezzar talks about Daniel by the name “Belteshazzar.” What might we learn from this passage about Nebuchadnezzar and his relationship to Daniel and to the one true God? 

Here we see Nebuchadnezzar’s point of view as he explains Daniel’s name; we get a glimpse into how he sees Daniel. Nebuchadnezzar’s name giving here implies identity hegemony. Daniel is named after Nebuchadnezzar’s gods, because Nebuchadnezzar recognizes “the spirit of the holy gods” in him. Belteshazzar means “Bel/Marduk protect his life!” and relates to titles for a Babylonian god. This suggests that Nebuchadnezzar senses or sees something spiritual or holy in Daniel, but is not willing to acknowledge Daniel’s God.

Are you in a relationship/contact with anyone who might see you this way?

4. Verses 4:10-27 The dream and Daniels interpretation:

Some textual notes:

The dream talks about 7 periods of time (or 7 years)— it’s not clear which.

Nebuchadnezzar seems to be the great tree that will be cut down in its prime.

Other scripture passages use similar imagery: Isaiah 10:33-34 contains imagery of God’s judgment in which trees are cut down. Isaiah 11:1-3 describes trees flourishing as an image of God’s blessing, a picture of the rule of the Messiah.

The dream implies that Nebuchadnezzar will be reduced to an animal state—driven out to graze with the beasts.

5. Daniel’s response to Nebuchadnezzar and to the dream:

In verse 4:19, Daniel seems fearful to say the interpretation of the dream. Why?

Yet in verse 4:20 Daniel speaks the truth to the king.

Verse 4:19 prefaces truth with compassion and praise of the king. This is an example of Daniel’s wisdom.

In 4:27 Daniel’s advice to Nebuchadnezzar: renounce wickedness to the oppressed—this would be a huge change for Nebuchadnezzar, who has conquered and exiled peoples (like the Jews), treats his own workers as if they are dispensable slaves, etc. A change in this arena would require a faith in God and in Daniel’s words.

Have you ever been in this position—to speak truth or bad news to someone in power? And to advise?

6. 4:28-37 The dream fulfilled:

What do you make of this series of events? Nebuchadnezzar starts out here by being self congratulatory. Then he is reduced from thinking of himself as a god to behaving like a beast. His humanity becomes less recognizable as he behaves like an animal. He also loses his usual reasoning capacity. This section shifts to third person narration.

Why do you think God would take Nebuchadnezzar’s sanity from him for this season of time?

Perhaps this is a reminder that only God is God. It may be intended to help Nebuchadnezzar recognize his mortality and vulnerability.

What does this incident suggest about the dangers of power, pride, and self-sufficiency—of not acknowledging God?

What can we learn about God from this?

  • God rules: king over all (human beings are not rulers in the same way that God is)
  • God shows mercy even to Gentile/pagan kings like Nebuchadnezzar
  • God works through his people to be witnesses in dark places among the nations

7. Trace Nebuchadnezzars story and journey towards God in chapters 1-4:

Daniel 1: Nebuchadnezzar took over Jerusalem, plundered the temple and put articles from it into his own god’s temple. He renames Daniel and friends. Nebuchadnezzar is dominating, unaware of God and his claims on humanity.

Daniel 2: Nebuchadnezzar is introduced to Daniel’s God. He sees that God is a revealer of mysteries and gains partial understanding.

Daniel 3: Nebuchadnezzar still sees himself as a god, as the gold statue he makes suggests. After the deliverance of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, Nebuchadnezzar starts to recognize God’s power, but only acknowledges God as their God, not his own. This God is to be respected: Nebuchadnezzar makes a decree that no one should say anything bad about this God. But Nebuchadnezzar still coerces/enforces worship/religion through violence and threats, even if he acknowledges God in some way.

Daniel 4: Nebuchadnezzar goes from seeing God as Daniel’s God to acknowledging God himself. He even praises God: Daniel 4:34-35, 37 echoes biblical passages such as Psalm 145:13, Psalm 115:3, Isaiah 14:27, Isaiah 40:27, and Job 9:12. God rules kingdoms of humans. His dominion is not just over the Jews but over all.

What can we learn from this story about the process of “conversion”? How do people come to know/praise God?

Reflection/application Questions:

1. Ways we might identify with Daniel:

Some of us might be in a position to speak difficult truth to someone in power: a boss, attending, advisor, etc. How might Daniel’s example encourage you?

Do/Have you had opportunities to witness to God in your interactions with colleagues, powerful people?

2. Things we might learn from Nebuchadnezzar: Do you know anyone like this? Someone in power who seems really far from God or not open to acknowledging any power besides their own?

Pray for God to transform those who behave this way.

For Further Study

The source for most of the background history in this series is:

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Kathy Cooper

Kathy Cooper is the Director of Staff Training & Leadership Development for InterVarsity's Graduate & Faculty Ministries, and serves as GFM staff at Brown University Graduate & Medical Schools. She has a B.A. from Yale in American Studies (Literature) and a Masters of Divinity from Regent College (Vancouver). Kathy and her husband Keith live in Providence, RI. All 3 of their daughters are in college this year. She enjoys cooking, reading, walks with the family dog, conversation over a cup of good coffee, and gardening.

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