The Fiery Furnace
December 8th, 1996
DANIEL’S CRITICS IN THE FIERY FURNACE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
12-08-96 Sunday School
Well, however the time is, I’m sure it is worthwhile to take time to introduce those vowels to us, so we can understand the lesson. I am beginning this morning with an excursus. I have tried to work it in for time after time, and I’ve never had enough time to do it. So, this morning, I just thought I would take the moment and speak of the language of God.
There is a phenomenon of language that we find in the Bible. It is often said the Old Testament is written in Hebrew and the New Testament is written in Greek. But, there is another language in the Old Testament: Aramaic. In Genesis 11:17, there are two Aramean words. In Jeremiah 10:11, there is a sentence in Aramaic. In Ezra, from chapter 4 verses 8 to 6 and verse 18, and in chapter 7 verses 12 through 26 – that means about one-third of the book of Ezra is in Aramiac. It includes official documents concerning the rebuilding of the Temple.
And now, we are studying Daniel. From Daniel 2 verse 1 through Daniel 7 verse 28, the entire section is written in Aramaic. One-half of the Book of Daniel is in Aramaic, as is one-third of the Book of Ezra. Now, Ezra was born and brought up in Babylon. And Daniel was taken there as a youth. Both spoke and wrote in Aramaic at the slightest suggestion.
In the Greek New Testament, you have Aramaic words: Abba, translated "Father" – in Mark 14:36; Talitha cumi, "awake and arise," in Mark 5:11. And Lama sabachthani, "why hast thou forsaken Me," in Mark 15:34. All of these were representative of the fact that the Aramaic language was the language of Palestine when the Lord and His disciples lived in it. And they spoke in Aramaic.
Now, the history of the Arameans and their language is an amazing come to pass to me. What is the Aramean language, and where did it come from? Who are these Arameans? In Genesis 10:22, Aram is the son of Shem, the son of Abraham, of course. And Shem is the name – Aram is the son of Noah and the son of Shem. He’s the grandson of Noah and the son of Shem, so we get the word "Semitic" from that word Shem.
The Greeks call these people Syrians, an abbreviation of Assyrian, and they were subjects of the Assyrian empire. These Arameans were scattered throughout the Middle East. They were traders, as well as shepherds. Their language became the language of commerce. They controlled the commerce of Western Asia. Theirs was the speech of the Assyrian, the Babylonian and the Persian empires and, finally, became the speech of Palestine.
Now, there was a change in the language of the Jews. And you’ve heard me speak about this. After the conquest by Nebuchadnezzar, and after the seventy years of the Babylonian Captivity, a change took place in the speech of the Hebrews. They began to speak Aramaic. They still also continued to be acquainted with Hebrew, because the books of Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi are written in Hebrew. But, they quit speaking Hebrew and began speaking Aramaic, the language of Babylon. So, when they returned home to Palestine, the spoke Aramaic.
For example, in Nehemiah chapter 8, verse 8, where Ezra read the law in Hebrew, it was necessary to give the translation in Aramaic. That is, I say, a remarkable thing. Aramaic, actually, altogether displaced Hebrew as the language of the people of God. Even the Hebrew Bible: the Hebrew words are spelled out in Aramaic alphabetical letters. When you look at the Bible in Hebrew, you’re looking at Aramaic letters.
Now, through the years, the Old Testament Scriptures had to be translated and explained – I’m talking about after Christ and after the apostles – through all the years following, the Scriptures had to be translated and explained in Aramaic. And it is called Targums.
Aramaic was the language spoken language of Christ, I say. In this is a remarkable thing. From BC 605, 600 years before Christ, to AD 1900, 1,900 years after Christ, Hebrew was a lost language. It was only out of necessity in the beginning of the state of Israel in Palestine that [Hebrew] was spoken again, after 2,500 years.
Palestine, as you know – in the Israeli state today, was settled by Jews from so many different countries that the only way they could talk to one another was to find a common language. And in keeping with the prophecy of Jeremiah, in Jeremiah 31:33, the common language was Hebrew. And I say, for the first time in 2,600 years that the language of Hebrew was spoken again, was in our lifetime. That is, if you’re not a child. It was in our lifetime that that prophecy in Jeremiah was fulfilled and they spoke Hebrew.
So, the Aramaic of the Book of Daniel, one-half of it is in Aramaic – was it written by two different authors? Did one author write in Aramaic and one in Hebrew? No. The same style whether it’s in the Aramaic part or the Hebrew part – the same style is seen. And the use of the same words and the presentation in both sections is very, very Aramaic. So, the two languages were used in reference to the two great divisions of people: what concerned the Jews, written in Hebrew, so the Jews could understand; and what concerned the Gentiles was written in Aramaic, so the Arameans could understand.
Daniel was a minister in the court of the king. And Aramaic was the language of diplomacy and commerce. It was often on the lips of Daniel. And what was written in Daniel was written especially for the Arameans and for the wider outreach of his prophetic visions. So, my comment is God has a message for the whole world, both for the Gentiles, the Arameans, and for the chosen people of God, the Hebrews. Aramaic and Hebrew; that’s God’s love for us.
Now, that was the excursion. Now, we’re coming to the lesson this morning. I just lament that we don’t have worlds of time just to look at all of this, just to study it all.
What we’re going to do this morning to see, to look at how the critics fire – how the critics fare in the fiery furnace. Now, as a background – and I don’t know just what to do in a thing like this because of time – but as a background, let’s try it this morning. Turn to Daniel 3. We’ve gone through chapter 2 for several months. So, let’s turn to chapter 3. Verse 1: "Nebuchadnezzar the king made an image of gold." Verse 6; and he avowed: "Whoso falleth not down and worship this image of gold shall the same be cast into the midst of a burning fiery furnace." Now, verse 12: "There are certain Jews, told the king, who don’t bow down. And they will not worship that golden image."
Now verse – the last part of verse 19: "Then the king spake and commanded that these Jews should be cast into the furnace which was heated one – which was heated seven times more than it was wont to be heated." Verse 21: "Then these men were bound in their coats, their clothes and their hats and their other garments and were cast into the midst of the burning fiery furnace." Now, verse : And these three men, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego fell down bound into the midst of the burning fury of the furnace.
Now, the next verse: "Then Nebuchadnezzar the king was astonished and rose up in haste and said: Did not we cast three men into the midst of the fire?"
They answered, and said: "True, O king."
Then he answered: "Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the fourth has a form of the Son of God."
Now, verse 27: "The princes, the governors, the captains, the king’s counselors being gathered together, they took those men out of the fire and looked at them. And there was not a hair of their head singed. Their coats were not changed, neither did the smell of fire pass on their bodies." Now, that’s the story of the men of God as they are cast into the fiery furnace – as you are cast into a fiery furnace.
Now, we’re going to look at what happens to the critics who do not believe the Bible and look upon it with scorn and disdain, and especially the Book of Daniel. The critics say that the Book of Daniel is a farce and a forgery. It was written four hundred years after it says that it was composed. And this attitude, persuasion about the Book of Daniel is adopted and accepted by the entire liberal world and is taught in practically all of our schools, including the theological schools – the liberal schools.
Well, how do they fare, these critics, in the white heat and light of the historical fact? Well, let’s hold their feet to the fire. Let’s put them in the fiery furnace. They allege, for example, that the Book of Daniel is filled with historical inaccuracies, with linguistic irreconcilables, with prophetical impossibilities and with doctrinal aberrations. Now, we don’t have time to begin to look into all of this. But, we’re going to take a minute and see how they fare in all of these things they believe and teach. I tell you this is an amazing thing to me.
So, just for a second: the historical facts, the alleged historical facts, the history that is quoted in the book. And typical of all that these infidels, unbelievers, these liberals, say, we’re going to choose just one. We’re going to choose Belshazzar.
He is ridiculed the most. The historical case against him, they say, is watertight. He is a figment of pure imagination. No such person as the Babylonian king Belshazzar ever lived. There’s no such king, no such death, no such history. And armed with all of these declarations, the critics seem to be an invincible army, a formidable array of troops.
Well, let us put them in the fiery furnace, in the white light of historical truth and see how they fare. All right, what are the historical fruits, facts? Now, Nebuchadnezzar was the first king of Babylonia. And he died in 562 BC. He was followed by his son Evil-Meradach. He was followed by his son Neriglissar. He was followed by his son, Labashi-Marduk. And he was followed by Nabonidus, the king of Babylonia. He was – he reigned seventeen years in Babylonia and was taken captive by Cyrus, the king, the military leader of the Persians. Now, that’s that. There is no Belshazzar in that list.
All known ancient secular sources name Nabonidus as the last king. But, Daniel says Belshazzar was the last king. Now, that was "it" for the liberals. They had a watertight case. This Bible is full of errors and historical inaccuracies, and on and on. And all known historians – and I’ve got them named here – all of them say that Nabonidus was the last king of the Babylonian empire. And they say he was not killed, but was given pension by his conquerors, by Cyrus. Daniel says Belshazzar was the last king and he was killed. So, the critics say that Belshazzar is a classic illustration of the historical errors in the Book of Daniel, and of course, in the whole Bible – full of inaccuracies and mistakes.
So, the spade of the archeologist began to turn over there. And what the spade has done to Daniel. Great numbers of clay tablets have been excavated from the ruins of Babylon, most of them sent to the British Museum. And Assyriologists, as they are called, began to study those cuneiform tablets. And in recent years, there has been a flood – I mean a flood – of discoveries. And what I have here is just a little tiny piece of it. Belshazzar, "Baal, protect the king" – that was their Babylonian god – now stands before us as a very real person, one of the leading spirits of his age.
Now I’m going to list here some of the things that they have discovered about Belshazzar from these cuneiform inscriptions.
One: he was born in 575 BC, the eldest son of Nabonidus, the king of Babylon. He was fourteen years old when Nebuchadnezzar died. He was twenty years old when his father, Nabonidus, ascended the throne.
Two: at twenty years of age, he has a house of his own in Babylon.
Three: At twenty five years of age, mention is made of his secretary.
Four : At twenty seven years of age, mention is made of his steward.
Five: At twenty seven years of age, we find him in northern Babylonia, as commander-in-chief of the army.
Six: At thirty years of age, we find him sending by water sheep and oxen for sacrifice to the temple at Sippar, which is up the Euphrates River. And on another occasion, he sends a wedge of gold weighing one mana. In the same way, one of his sisters sends a silver cup, weighing twenty five shekels, as her tithe to the temple. Another sister was dedicated as a virgin to the moon god, Sin, in the temple at Ur, down the Euphrates River, and he built a house for her close to the women’s quarters.
Seven: We even know that, when he was twenty six years of age, his grandfather died at the advanced age of 104 years.
Why was Belshazzar left king in Babylon? The reason lay in the character and personality of Nabonidus, his father. Nabonidus was a man of great cultural and religious interest. He was an archaeologist and builder and restorer of temples. He sought for inscriptions concerning exploits of kings. He looked for documents in foundations and cornerstones of temples. His mother seems to have been a priestess in the temple of the moon god. And as we have seen, his own daughter was dedicated to that god. This inclination drew him away from the affairs of state.
In recent years, a noted Assyriologist at Yale University published a book showing that Nabonidus spent much of his reigning years at Tema, in Arabia. An inscription has been discovered that states that before he left for Tema, he entrusted the kingship to Belshazzar. All of that has been dug up by the archaeologist. He was king in much the same manner as was Nebuchadnezzar with his father, Nabolpolassar.
This explains the strange allusion in Daniel 5:16 and 29. The king, because of his marvelous gift of magic and prophecy said: "You’re going to be made the third king in Babylon." Well, why was he not the second king in Babylon? The reason is Nabonidus was the king, Belshazzar was his son – the second king. Therefore, Daniel had to be the third king. I point that out just to show you that when you’re dealing with the truth, little tiny, infinitesimal minutia will support it. But, if you’re not telling the truth, those little old details will call you a deceiver. It’s just remarkable to me.
Now, the death of Nebuchadnezzar is corroborated. The spade of the archaeologist has uncovered the annihilistic tablets of Cyrus and his description of the fall of Babylon. He is the Persian leader, as you know, that took it. The Persians had captured Nabonidus, the king of Babylon, some four months before Babylon fell. And in the eyes of all, Belshazzar – with Nabonidus gone – was the king of the city.
The tablet of Cyrus said Babylon was easily taken. So Daniel says in Daniel 5:30-31. The tablet also says that, when it was taken, the king’s son died. Belshazzar died. So, Daniel says that night Belshazzar was slain.
Now, the amazing thing – of so many amazing things – Belshazzar’s name fell out of history completely and absolutely. Remember, several times I’ve mentioned the fact that Herodotus visited Babylon in 460 BC and wrote extensively of it. And he named the kings and the queens but he never mentions Belshazzar – Herodotus. He never heard of him. That’s how completely Belshazzar fell out of history.
And I repeat, Herodotus, who was there just seventy years after the Babylon Empire fell, never heard of him; writes extensively about the Babylonian Empire, but never heard of Belshazzar. I tell you these infidels really had a watertight case against the purity of the story in Daniel.
Well, how came Daniel to know of him if it was written according to the critics four hundred years later? The answer is plain. He lived and wrote during those days. He was a contemporary of Belshazzar. So, he wrote about him personally.
Now, I want to speak of the Book of Daniel in history. The Book of Daniel is in the canon of the Hebrew Bible. It’s one of the inspired books. The book is there. Multitudes of noble works were refused by the Hebrews in their great assembly. They refused to allow them into the canon, into the Bible. You won’t find them.
For example, 1 Maccabees – you’ve heard me speak about 1 Maccabees – if ever there was a book that was worthy of being included in the canon of the Hebrew Bible, it’s the book of Maccabees. It’s a work of highest excellence. It possesses authority and value which no other part of the Apocrypha, the writings between the New and the Old Testament, possesses. Even Luther declared it was worthy to be reckoned among the sacred Scriptures. But, it was refused. One of the rules in the canon was it had to be written in Hebrew. And 1 Maccabees is written in Greek. And it was written in about, oh, I’d say about 200 AD.
All right, let’s take another marvelous book: Ecclesiasticus. That book, Ecclesiasticus, represents the dominant thought of the Jews at the time of its composition about 200 BC. It is a noble work, but it was refused from being in the Old Testament. It’s written in Greek.
Even canonical books – books that are here in the Bible, like Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and even Ezekiel were challenged. But, the right of the Book of Daniel to canonicity was never questioned in the ancient synagogue. That’s what Edersheim says about Daniel. I just can’t believe all of this.
Now, the canon – the measure of the rule of the Old Testament was rigidly set. Here are three things that any book placed in the canon, placed in the Bible, in the Old Testament, there are three books – there are three things that had to be accepted, had to be seen. No books were included which were not believed to have been in the existence in the days of Nehemiah. That’s way back yonder, hundreds of years before Christ. Any book that is found in the Old Testament had to be in existence in the days of Nehemiah.
Number two: any book that was canonized, had to be inspired. And the ancient synagogue believed that inspiration ceased with the prophets and that no prophet had arisen since Malachi. If any book is found there in the Old Testament, it had to be written before Malachi.
All right a third one – the one that I’ve already mentioned: it had to be written in Hebrew.
Now, the critics would have us believe that around 165 BC – you just listen to this crazy thing – they would have us believe that around 165 BC, some Jewish writer incorporated a history of the life of Daniel in his spurious prophecy, supposed to have been delivered four hundred years before, and that the work was thereupon accepted as inspired, along with the Psalms of David and the sacred books of the Hebrew writers.
The great ancient synagogue of the second century BC was composed of men famous for their piety and scholastic learning. They held extremely strict views of inspiration and had intense reverence for the sacred writings. Now, the critics – these infidels, they say that these devout men in 200 BC belonging to the great synagogue – that these devout men smuggled into the Scriptures, into the canon a book that was a forgery – a Hebrew fraud, a fictitious novel of contemporary date.
Let me ask you something? Can you imagine a meeting of theologians today to discuss a modern life of Christ and that is to be placed in the Bible? Can you imagine that? It is unthinkable that a group of devout, holy theological men would meet together and pick up a modern life of Christ and put it in the Bible as inspired.
That’s exactly what these critics say happened: four hundred years later, some fraudulent writer wrote this thing we call the Book of Daniel and they put it into the sacred Scriptures – put it in the Old Testament. All these things, no less grotesquely ridiculous, is the suggestion that the great synagogue in the second century BC would have entertained an idea of adding a forged romance of their own age to the canon to the Old Testament. Can you believe these infidels believe this? They amaze me.
The greatest translation that was ever made in the world is called the Septuagint: LXX, the Septuagint, the Seventy. It’s the most influential translation in the history of the world. It was the Bible of the apostles. It was the Bible of our Lord. It was made in Alexandria under the Ptolemies around 300 BC. And you’ll find Daniel in that Septuagint.
All right, 1 Maccabees was written soon after the time they say Daniel was forged, say about, oh, within two hundred years. First Maccabees was written about 200 and, remember, all this thing about Daniel is about 600-500 BC. Well, First Maccabees was written about 200. And First Maccabees quotes the book of Daniel.
Now, Josephus – and I’m going to tell you one of the most marvelous things I ever read in human history – Josephus was a contemporary of Paul and John. In about 90 AD, he wrote the history of the Jewish people – I’ve read it – from Abraham down to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD. And one of the most beautiful stories I’ve ever read in my life is found there in the eleventh chapter of the Antiquities of the Jews. And it is this. Alexander the Great, in about 335 BC, 335 years before Christ – Alexander the Great conquered, as you know, the Persian Empire. And that included Babylon.
And all through, he never lost a battle, not in his life. Alexander the Great conquered the entire civilized world; even went to the edge of India and had to turn back, because his soldiers wouldn’t go any further. Alexander the Great was an incomparable commander. And all of those cities that had been under Persia, under Cyrus, all of them he destroyed. He just wiped them clean, and placed in its stead the Greek culture and language and theology.
So, Alexander the Great came to Jerusalem with his great army to destroy it. Now, you listen to this. When Alexander the Great came with his army to Jerusalem to destroy it, instead of meeting an army to defend their city, you know what happened? Jaddua, the high priest, dressed in his beautiful scarlet robes – he was followed by all the priesthood dressed in white. And they were followed by thousands of Jews. And instead of meeting an army, Alexander the Great met the priests and the Levites and the priests, and all of those devout people of the Jews.
And what – what Jaddua, the high priest, had in his hand was a Bible. What he had in his hand was Daniel. And he met Alexander, who had come to destroy the city, and opened the Book of Daniel and read to [Alexander] the Daniel of prophecy around Alexander’s coming, around the Greek’s coming, and around the city of Jerusalem made a part of the Greek Empire.
And when Alexander the Great read that in the prophecy of Daniel, he fell down and worshiped the true God and went with Jaddua, the high priest, into the Temple and there made an offering to the great Jehovah God of heaven and loved the Jews until he died. I can hardly believe such a marvelous thing. That’s God. That’s the Word of the Lord.
Now, I must close, but I want to close with something. In the Book of Daniel, in the ninth chapter, you’ll find his prophecy that unto the end of time, of eternity, war and desolations are determined. Now, may I do this one thing before I close? So Daniel says, to the end of the age – to the end of civilization, to the end of time – wars and desolations are determined.
All right, you listen to this. In February of 1914, a great prophetic conference was called together in Los Angeles. And in that prophetic conference, attention was called to the predictive Scriptures in Daniel "that nations shall rise against nation and desolations and wars will be to the end," as Daniel 9:26 says there shall be wars and famines and tragic destitution.
All right; one of these infidels, I call them. One of these liberals, one of these liberals, editor of the Christian Advocate wrote an editorial about their belief in that prophetic conference that wars and desolations were determined to the end. And here’s a sentence from that editor. He says, "That conference in LA" – quote – "is not a prophetic conference, but it is a pathetic conference. There’s no such thing as wars being determined to the end."
Remember what I said? That was in 1914. In just a matter of days after he wrote that sarcastic, contemptible designation and description of that prophetic conference, the Archduke of Austria was slain in Serbia and the first great World War began. Now, you’re too young to remember that. I do. I do. I remember it. And it lasted for four years. And the United States finally was brought into it. I remember every syllable of it. Yet, he says, "a pathetic conference" because they believe in the prophecy of the Book of Daniel.
All right, let’s take again if I can take one more minute. When I was growing up, I never heard a postmillennial preacher – never; a premillennial preacher: I never heard of one. All the preachers I ever heard were post-millennial. We were going to work and we were going to preach and we were going to win out, going to send missionaries and we were going to teach people the Word of God and hold revival meetings. We were going to have everything going for us for God until the millennium, until the world was perfect – every preacher I ever heard.
B. H. Carroll, who founded our Southwestern Seminary, was an ardent, vigorous, vocal postmillennialist. And my great predecessor, George W. Truett, was a postmillennialist. His favorite text, in 1 Corinthians 15: "He must reign till He hath conquered all of His enemies under His feet." I never heard a preacher – and I went to school at Baylor four years. I went to school in seminary in Louisville, Kentucky six years – I never heard a preacher who was a premillennialist. And then, and then, and then, Hitler arose and we were entered into the Second World War.
And in that war, more than fifty million people were killed, slain – whole cities, whole populations, half of the nations involved. Fifty million people were killed in the Second World War. I haven’t heard a postmillennialist since; not one, not one. But, I still read the Word of God that says these wars are going to continue to the end. Sweet people, it’s just a wonderful thing to live and to believe the infallible and inerrant Word of God.