In striking contrast to the bowed and sorrowful old prophet Jeremiah is the alert and eager youth Daniel. The two men were contemporaries, though there was a difference in their ages. When, in the reign of Jehoiakim, the Jews were taken into captivity to Babylon, the youth Daniel went with them, while the old prophet Jeremiah was left behind. Daniel was chosen, with three companions, to be educated at the court of the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar. They were taught the Chaldean language and the sciences, and the king was delighted with their progress.

An opportunity soon came for Daniel to be of service to his royal patron. Nebuchadnezzar had a strange dream, which none of his magicians could interpret, because, unfortunately, he had forgotten it. In his anger that no one could supply the lost memory, he commanded to destroy all the wise men of Babylon. But Daniel prayed to God that the secret might be revealed to him.

His prayers were answered, and he related to the king not only just what the dream was, but the full meaning of it:[27] "Thou, O king, sawest, and behold a great image. This great image, whose brightness was excellent, stood before thee; and the form thereof was terrible. This image's head was of fine gold, his breast and his arms of silver, his belly and his thighs of brass, his legs of iron, his feet part of iron and part of clay. Thou sawest till that a stone was cut out without hands, which smote the image upon his feet that were of iron and clay, and brake them to pieces.... And the stone that smote the image became a great mountain, and filled the whole earth."

[27] Daniel, chapter ii. verses 31-35.

In Daniel's interpretation the different portions of the image represented the different kingdoms which should follow, one after another, in the future. The stone which brake the image in pieces referred to the final kingdom which the God of heaven shall set up, "which shall never be destroyed," but which shall stand forever.

From this time forth Daniel became a seer. He had many wonderful visions in the night, and interpreted them with reference to future historical events. He was also a statesman, the king having made him governor of the province as a reward for his services. In later years he acted as viceroy at a time when the king was insane.

In the reign of Nebuchadnezzar's successor, Belshazzar, Daniel was again called into service as a seer. One night, during a great feast, a mysterious hand appeared to write some inscription on the wall, and Daniel alone could interpret it. The message was ominous, but the prophet spoke out boldly."Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin," ran the words, "Thou art weighed in the balances and art found wanting." Daniel condemned the king for his iniquities, and declared that his kingdom should be divided by the Medes and Persians. That very night Belshazzar was slain, and Darius, the Median, took the kingdom.

DANIEL. Sistine Chapel, Rome.
DANIEL. Sistine Chapel, Rome.

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Under the new dynasty Daniel was given so much power that some of the officials, jealous of his preferment, plotted against him. They contrived to persuade King Darius to sign a decree that "whosoever should ask a petition of any god or man for thirty days, save of the king himself, should be cast into the den of lions." The officials were right in supposing that this would entrap Daniel into law-breaking, for, faithful to his Hebrew training, he offered prayer to God three times a day. He was therefore cast into the lions' den, but no harm befell him, because, according to his own explanation, God sent his angel to shut the lions' mouths.

Daniel continued to hold office even in the reign of the next king, Cyrus the Persian. He lived to a great old age, but he was so young when he first showed his prophetic gifts that it is natural to think of him in his youth as Michelangelo has represented him. It would seem that the artist had in mind Daniel's early years of education at court. On his lap is a large open book supported on the back of a tiny figure standing between his knees. This may represent a volume of Chaldean learning. His posture shows that he has been consulting the volume, and now turns to his writing tablets to record his own thoughts.

His broad forehead shows him to be a student and a thinker. The waving hair is brushed back to form an aureole about his face. It is the face of a dreamer in a moment of inspiration. Eagerly he writes his words of mingled poetry and prophecy. He is full of youthful enthusiasm for his work, a nature fitted for action as well as for vision. He has also the spirited bearing of one who fears neither the rage of a lion nor the wrath of a king. There is a breezy energy in his motions, as if thoughts came more swiftly than he could transcribe them.

His expression of happy anticipation is in vivid contrast to Jeremiah's sorrowful attitude of retrospection. The picture brings out clearly the fact that the keynote of Daniel's prophecy is hope. Looking into his rapt face, we may imagine that this is the message he is writing: "They that be wise shall shine as the brightness of the firmament; and they that turn many to righteousness, as the stars forever and ever."[28]

[28] Daniel, chapter xii. verse 3.