Study Guide

Book of Daniel Themes

  • Courage

    This is a big one. In the first six chapters of Daniel—the main story part—every chapter demonstrates someone doing something courageous: Daniel refuses to eat food that doesn't jive with his religious standards, he saves the wise men (and himself) by telling and interpreting Nebuchadnezzar's statue dream, he tells Belshazzar it's "Game Over," and refuses to stop praying to God, getting tossed into the lions' den. And Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego also demonstrate courage by refusing to bow down to Nebuchadnezzar's idol and facing the fiery furnace.

    All of these instances of courage have something in common. They're not based on prowess on the battlefield, or the kind of courage that kings and warriors typically deal in. They're examples of having the courage to tell the truth in a situation where the truth is unwelcome—and not only to tell the truth, but to live the truth, as well.

    Questions About Courage

    1. Do you think it's realistic that being courageous works out so well for Daniel and his friends, given that they end up getting promotions? In the long run, do you think that courage in the truth is rewarded (even if you die in the process)?
    2. Why do you think Belshazzar gives Daniel a promotion, even though Daniel has just told him he's about to be overthrown and killed?
    3. In these stories, is courage a gift that's given to Daniel by God? Or is it something that he's able to do through his own power and effort?
    4. How do you think these stories spoke to people who were living under tyranny at the time (meaning the Hebrews oppressed by Antiochus IV Epiphanes)?
    5. How do the people in power (the kings) react to hearing the truth spoken to them? How do they react differently at different times?
  • Dreams, Hopes, and Plans

    Lions? Plenty of 'em. The Book of Daniel certainly has plenty of dreams, too—but they're actual dreams, weird things Nebuchadnezzar sees in his sleep. Yet, like Uncle Sigmund Freud always says, "Every dream is a wish." All of these dreams—the statue destroyed by the rock, the tree that gets cut down—are wishes that the Hebrews had for the future. They wish to see the world of wicked empires replaced by a Messianic age of peace (the rock that covers the world, in the statue dream) and to see kings like Nebuchadnezzar brought low and re-educated into the ways of God.

    Daniel's visions too, outline hopes and dreams for the future. They predict the end of the reign of un-righteous kings like Antiochus IV Epiphanes and the beginning of a New World. They imagine the wise and holy people who are now persecuted, raised up and ascending to a place of glory after death.

    Questions About Dreams, Hopes, and Plans

    1. Why do the four empires in the statue dream form the image of one frightening human statue?
    2. Why does Nebuchadnezzar need to become an animal before he can learn the truth about God?
    3. What does the book expect the end of the world to be like? Does it differ from images in books like Isaiah and Revelation?
    4. What is the significance of the "one like a human" who receives dominion at the end of time, when the four beasts have all died or been destroyed?
    5. Who fulfills these plans and dreams for the future? God? Or does Israel itself play a role? How can you tell?
  • Power

    The Book of Daniel has a lot to say about power. Its message is usually "Not so fast—it belongs to God." Every king we encounter—from Nebuchadnezzar to Antiochus IV Epiphanes (the "little horn")—ultimately is humbled in some way, whether by realizing God is above all or by being totally destroyed (yep, those are the two alternatives pretty much). Daniel keeps demonstrating that all power and glory belong to God and shows that God will give that power—and take it away—from kings and conquerors when he pleases. The examples given in the quotes are mainly examples of power getting taken away from someone—showing how all power ultimately needs to go back to God.

    Questions About Power

    1. Does God have total power over everything that happens in Daniel—or is there a little "play in the wheel"?
    2. To what degree is having or pursuing power a totally bad thing? Can it be good, ever? Do the kings in the stories ever use it well or wisely?
    3. Why does God allow bad kings to continue having power for so long before he takes it away?
    4. What are the differences between the kings who get to keep their power until they die a natural death, and the kings who lose it—like Belshazzar?
  • Pride

    Come on, you knew that with so many lions running around this had to be theme, right? What's that? It's pride as in the emotion? Yeah… we knew that. It still works well here; pride is a theme that is closely tied into the power theme. Because what do kings take pride in? Their power. But ultimately, Daniel seems to be saying that, if you take pride in your power, you're going to lose it. Yet, if you're humble—like Daniel and Shadrach—and give everything up to a higher power, you're ultimately going to get promoted and can survive any catastrophe. You'll keep moving along. But pride sets up the various kings who have it for a nasty fall: "Pride comes before the fall," as the old saying goes.

    Questions About Pride

    1. Why won't Nebuchadnezzar tell his wise men and enchanters what his dream is, so they can interpret it? How does pride affect his way of seeing the world, and the things that he demands from people?
    2. What is the antidote for pride? How do you get over it, and will the cure always work?
    3. Why isn't Nebuchadnezzar able to permanently lose his pride after Daniel interprets his statue dream or after the conclusion of the "fiery furnace" debacle?
    4. How is Antiochus IV Epiphanes' pride different from or more dangerous than that of the other kings (if it is different)? Could Antiochus IV Epiphanes lose his pride after a "seven years in the wilderness as an animal" experience?
  • Principles

    No, we're not talking Ed Rooney from Ferris Bueller's Day Off here. (That's spelled principal, gang.) This theme is actually really closely related to the courage theme. Just like the kings' pride is over their power, Daniel and his friends' courage is over their principles. Those principles are related to their trust in God and their identity as a people. They refuse to compromise themselves in any way, not praying to foreign gods or eating non-kosher foods (hold the Babylonian lobster bisque, thanks). Those principles ultimately prove to be a greater source of comfort than "doing as the Romans do" or, in this case, doing as the Babylonians, Medes, Persians, and Greeks do.

    Questions About Principles

    1. Is there any pay-off to sticking to your principles—in the story or in real life?
    2. If there was no pay-off—no reward—would it still be right to stick to your principles?
    3. Do any of the characters besides Daniel and his friends have principles, do you think? If so, what are they?
    4. Is it ever okay to compromise your principles? Can you think of something that you just wouldn't change your mind about, even under threat of getting thrown into a fiery furnace or a lions' den?
    5. Do you think that Daniel and his friends worry about sticking to their principles—worrying that it's not going to be alright in the end? Or do you think they're able to unwaveringly trust that the ultimate outcome will be good?