You will find an introduction and outline of Daniel, here.
Here is a prayer to use before reading:
From the Book of Common Worship:
Eternal God, your wisdom is greater than our minds can attain, and your truth shows up our learning. To those who study, give curiosity, imagination, and patience enough to wait and work for insight. Help us to doubt with courage, but to hold all our doubts in the larger faith of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
An Outline of Daniel (based on Towner)
I. The Public History: Tales about Daniel and his friends 1:1-6:28
A. 1:1-21 Four Jewish Heroes do well in Babylon. The first chapter is set in the court of Nebuchadnezzar when Daniel and his friends face challenges as faithful Jews in exile.
Verses 1-2 set the stage. Verses 3-5 To educate the conquered nobilities youth was a way to facilitate acceptance of the conquest and diminish the possibility of revolt. Verses 8-21 In the post exile time, diet was a major method of identification as a Jew. It is likely that the food and drink offered Daniel and his friends had first been offered to Babylonian gods. Water and vegetables most likely would not have been an offering. Notice how God is at work here, arraigning favor with the palace master and giving the young men the knowledge and wisdom and insight they would need (v17).At the end of three years “no one was found to compare with Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah”.
B. 2:1-49 Daniel, interpreter of dreams: Dreams were considered important and their correct interpretation was also considered important. Here Daniel is placed in a contest of sorts with the magicians, enchanters, sorcerers and Chaldeans. Chaleans were a caste of wise men. Recall that Joseph also was an interpreter of dreams for a foreign king. Here in verse 4 b (“O King…”) is where the text switches from Hebrew to Aramaic. Nebuchadnezzar wants the wise men not only to interpret the dream but to tell what the dream itself was! An impossible task. Nebuchadnezzar orders all the wise men killed (this includes Daniel and his friends). Daniel, asks for time and his request is granted. He and his friends pray and Daniel receives a vision in which he is given the dream and its interpretation. Verses 20-23 are a short Psalm or doxology. Daniel is brought before the king and describes the dream and gives the interpretation giving all the credit to God. In the Ancient Near East there were some giant statues and giant statues are also found in dream records. The body parts of the statue are in a descending order of value. Notice how in verse 36 Daniel gives God authority over the king. We do not know for sure who the author considers the four kingdoms after Nebuchadnezzar the head of gold. Probably they were Media- silver, Persia -bronze, Greece- iron and clay. Alexander’s kingdom in the east was divided into Ptolemaic and Selucid kingdoms.These kingdoms were of concern to Judea which was under Ptolemaic rule, Macabaen rule and Selucid rule. In verse 44 God is again described as the one in control.In verse 46, Nebuchadnezzar evidently believes Daniel to be divine. In 47 the God of Israel is acknowledged as the God of god, and Lord of kings. And Daniel is promoted and given “great gifts”. Notice the similarities to Joseph’s story in Genesis.
C.3:1-30 The Fiery Furnace:Nebuchadnezzar builds a great statue of himself and orders everyone to worship or be thrown into a furnace.The dimensions 90×9 feet are probably an exaggeration. We don’t know the time frame between chapter 2 and chapter 3 but their juxtaposition highlights the fickleness of the king. As well as the fickleness of the Chaldeans since Daniel saved their lives in chapter 2. The men (Daniel’s friends and not Daniel) declare their fidelity to God and their refusal to serve or worship other gods. The men are cast into a fire so hot the soldiers who escort them are killed. The king sees they are unharmed and a fourth figure is with them. Nebuchadnezzar changes his tune again and blesses God and makes a decree against any blasphemy against God.
D.4:1-37 Daniel, spiritual counselor to a mad king: This chapter is presented as a letter from Nebuchadnezzar to the world in which he praises God and tells the story of his dream. In verse 19 the story shifts from the king’s first person account to third person. Daniel, understandably is not eager to interpret this dream. Notice at the end, of the interpretation, v25-27 there is a promise of restoration and even the hope that by proper actions the judgment might be lessened.
What the dream foretold comes to pass. In verse 34 the story returns to the king’s first person narrative and Nebuchadnezzar praises God.
If these stores were written to give instruction and hope to people living under foreign rule, what are the messages of each story?
Here are several good sources to aid your reading of Daniel.
Anderson, Bernhard W., Katheryn Pfister Darr, Understanding the Old Testament Abridged fourth Edition. (Upper Saddle River,New Jersey: Prentice Hall) 1998.
Levine, Amy-Jill “Daniel” in The New Oxford Annotated Bible with Apocrypha: New Revised Standard Version.Coogan, Michael D.; Brettler, Marc Z.; Perkins, Pheme; Newsom, Carol A. (2010-01-20) Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.
Towner, W. Sibley “Daniel” in HarperCollins Bible Commentary Mays, James L. ed.(San Francisco: HarperSanFrancisco) 2000.