Exposition of Daniel 11:2-28  Daniel’s final vision – Part 1

The idea of time travel can produce some intriguing science fiction. Storytellers love to speculate on what would happen if a person from the past somehow arrived to the future. How would they react to the way the world had changed. If they were to take what they learned from experiencing the future back to the past, how would they use it? How could a glimpse into the future affect the present? The prophecies recorded in the Bible give us a glimpse into the future. We can know the trajectory that the world is on, and that enables us to live in light of that future.

In the next few posts, we will study Daniel’s final recorded vision, and some of what is recorded there is now part of our past, but, within the prophecy, there are future events still on our horizon. What will we do with the knowledge of what is to come, and how will we use it to affect our present?

This is a good time to really consider all that God has shown us in this amazing book. If you haven’t already done so, prayerfully consider how this understanding changes the way you think about the world and how you live in it.

God’s Word is trustworthy. As we will see when we explore the beginning of Daniel’s vision, the events that the angel foretold have come to pass with astonishing accuracy. In fact, these visions are so accurate that some have suggested that they must have been written after the events happened. But we worship a Big God, who holds the future in his hand and can choose to tell us as much or as little of what will come as he desires. He has chosen to give Daniel and the Jewish people a warning so they will know what’s coming. It could not have been easy to hear.

 Expected events until Alexander’s empire is divided (verses 2-4)

 2 “Now then, I tell you the truth: Three more kings will arise in Persia, and then a fourth, who will be far richer than all the others. When he has gained power by his wealth, he will stir up everyone against the kingdom of Greece. 3 Then a mighty king will arise, who will rule with great power and do as he pleases. 4 After he has arisen, his empire will be broken up and parceled out toward the four winds of heaven. It will not go to his descendants, nor will it have the power he exercised, because his empire will be uprooted and given to others.”

The angel begins his long revelation of what is going to happen by saying that four Persian kings would follow Cyrus, and the fourth would have vast wealth. Scholars are agreed that this fourth king is Xerxes I (486-465 B.C.), whose successful invasion of Greece stirred the desire among the Greeks for vengeance and plunder. The Hebrew text of verse 2 is better understood to mean Xerxes “will arouse everyone, that is, the kingdom of Greece” (NET Bible Notes; CEB and Collins[1] agree).

There is also a consensus that Alexander the Great (356-323 B.C.) is the “mighty king” (verse 3) who leads the Greek retaliation only to have his kingdom fall into four pieces at his death (verse 4). The angel has no interest in two of those four kingdoms, but he next describes the coming development of the two kingdoms who will bracket Palestine geographically.

 Expected developments in Egypt and Syria (verses 5-20)

Miller explains one purpose of this section: “Verses 5-20 comprise a history of the ongoing conflicts between two divisions of the Greek Empire, the Ptolemaic (Egyptian) and the Seleucid (Syrian), from the death of Alexander (323 B.C.) until the reign of Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175163 B.C.).”[2] Both of these groups took turns dominating Palestine, and both mistreated the Jews.

Obviously, the angel does not provide names of these future kingdoms or their rulers; such names would have meant nothing to Daniel. But, the angel provides Daniel with so many details that historians have been able to easily reconstruct who was involved in the prophecies based on ancient historical records. Chisholm[3] presents the following table:

Verse King of the South (Ptolemaic) King of the North (Seleucid)
5 Ptolemy I (322-285 B.C.) Seleucus I (312-280 B.C.)
6 Ptolemy II (285-246) Antiochus II (262-246)
7–9 Ptolemy III (246-221) Seleucus II (246-226)
10 Seleucus III (226-223)

Antiochus III (223-127)

11-19 Antiochus III (223-127)
(11-12) Ptolemy IV (221-203) Antiochus III (223-127)
(14-17) Ptolemy V (203-180) Antiochus III (223-127)
20 Seleucus IV (187-175)

A full discussion of verses 5-20 is presented by Miller[4] and Wood[5].

We recall that Daniel received the vision and the angelic prophecies in 536/535 B.C., the third year of Cyrus king of Persia (Dan. 10:1). Thus, in this group of prophecies alone, the predictions span 360 years. Only God is capable of revealing such future events and bringing them to pass. The Bible consistently demonstrates that God is the master of human history and intervenes in it in such a way as to dictate whatever outcomes he chooses. When you think about it, every act of God is supernatural. Miracles are his ordinary actions.

But some scholars reject the whole idea of predictive prophecy, just as they are dismissive of supernatural acts (such as the resurrection of Jesus). Goldingay says: “What assumptions should we bring to [Daniel] regarding the nature of the stories and the origin of the visions? Critical scholarship has sometimes overtly, sometimes covertly approached the visions with the [initial] conviction that they cannot be actual prophecies of events to take place long after the seer’s day, because prophecy of that kind is impossible.”[6]

Goldingay calls the prophecies of chapter 11 “quasi-prophecies,”[7] meaning that there was no angelic revelation, just a man (falsely) calling himself Daniel and writing about events that have already happened in such a way as to present them as prophecies. We reject that view, believing the statement of the angel that his words are “the truth” (Dan. 11:2); that is our conviction!

We do not stand at the same spot in history with Daniel. We look back at the prophecies in verses 5-20 and see that they defined over three centuries of rapid change with amazing precision. That gives us confidence that we can rely on everything Daniel records about the end times. Only God can reliably tell us what is to come.

 An evil enemy: The rise of Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175-163 B.C.)

 21 “He will be succeeded by a contemptible person who has not been given the honor of royalty. He will invade the kingdom when its people feel secure, and he will seize it through intrigue. 22 Then an overwhelming army will be swept away before him; both it and a prince of the covenant will be destroyed. 23 After coming to an agreement with him, he will act deceitfully, and with only a few people he will rise to power. 24 When the richest provinces feel secure, he will invade them and will achieve what neither his fathers nor his forefathers did. He will distribute plunder, loot and wealth among his followers. He will plot the overthrow of fortresses — but only for a time.

25 “With a large army he will stir up his strength and courage against the king of the South. The king of the South will wage war with a large and very powerful army, but he will not be able to stand because of the plots devised against him. 26 Those who eat from the king’s provisions will try to destroy him; his army will be swept away, and many will fall in battle. 27 The two kings, with their hearts bent on evil, will sit at the same table and lie to each other, but to no avail, because an end will still come at the appointed time. 28 The king of the North will return to his own country with great wealth, but his heart will be set against the holy covenant. He will take action against it and then return to his own country.”

Shakespeare tells us, “What’s past is prologue.”[8] That is certainly true in relation to Antiochus IV Epiphanes as a pattern for the far more important Antichrist to come. In this section we will constantly wonder how much may indirectly apply to the one to come who will be more evil than any other ruler.

The angel’s initial description of Antiochus IV Epiphanes declares him to be “a contemptible person who has not been given the honor of royalty” (verse 21). The phrase “contemptible person” is a participle suggesting that people would continually find him despicable in his behavior. The throne rightfully belonged to another, but Antiochus cleverly seized it.

Verses 22-23 are typical for Antiochus IV; he first defeated the “overwhelming army,” made a covenant (or treaty) with his defeated Egyptian enemy, and then played off factions in Egypt by breaking the covenant. Like the Antichrist, deceit and treachery made his covenants worthless.

The war between Antiochus IV and Ptolemy VI (“the king of the South”), first mentioned in verse 22, is further described in verses 25-27, but the details need not concern us. At verse 28 we finally arrive at the crux of the matter. After being thwarted in his attempt to take Egypt, Antiochus IV began his brutal persecution of the Jews during his return march to Syria. Miller explains that, upon finding an insurrection in progress in Jerusalem, “He put down the rebellion, massacring eighty thousand men, women, and children … and then looted the temple with the help of the evil high priest Menelaus.”[9] Remember that these horrible actions suggest the type of action the Antichrist will take in the years just prior to the Messiah’s return, years that still lie in our future. The continued career of Antiochus IV and the evil actions by the Antichrist will be the subject of the next section.

Because we live in a time and place far removed from Daniel’s day, it can be easy to merely admire the exactness of the prophecy while forgetting that Daniel’s people were receiving word of times yet to come. Imagine how it would have felt to know that this particular future awaited you and future generations of your family. Although much of what has been discussed has already happened, we are about to catch a glimpse of a future that may affect those alive today, or will certainly affect those who come later.

Copyright © 2015 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Collins, Daniel, 363.

[2] Miller, Daniel, 292-3.

[3] Chisholm, Handbook of the Prophets, 320.

[4] Miller, Daniel, 292-7.

[5] Wood, Daniel, 283–293.

[6] Goldingay, Daniel, xxxix.

[7] Goldingay, Daniel, 282.

[8] The Tempest, Act II, Scene I.

[9] Miller, Daniel, 300.

Exposition of Daniel 10:15-11:1 An angelic warrior speaks

Daniel 10:15–11:1

15 While he was saying this to me, I bowed with my face toward the ground and was speechless. 16 Then one who looked like a man touched my lips, and I opened my mouth and began to speak. I said to the one standing before me, “I am overcome with anguish because of the vision, my lord, and I feel very weak. 17 How can I, your servant, talk with you, my lord? My strength is gone and I can hardly breathe.”

18 Again the one who looked like a man touched me and gave me strength. 19 “Do not be afraid, you who are highly esteemed,” he said. “Peace! Be strong now; be strong.” When he spoke to me, I was strengthened and said, “Speak, my lord, since you have given me strength.”

20 So he said, “Do you know why I have come to you? Soon I will return to fight against the prince of Persia, and when I go, the prince of Greece will come; 21 but first I will tell you what is written in the Book of Truth. (No one supports me against them except Michael, your prince.

1 And in the first year of Darius the Mede, I took my stand to support and protect him.)

An angelic warrior speaks

When we consider Daniel’s age, his long fast, and the overwhelming nature of his encounter with the Messiah, it is not surprising that he has difficulty even standing before the angelic messenger, much less learning what the angel has come to reveal (verse 15). Even though NIV has Daniel saying that he suffers “with anguish because of the vision” (verse 16), the underlying Hebrew noun is used most frequently for labor pains, which any mother will attest are worse than mere anguish!

Note that the angel, who had the appearance of a man, was able to strengthen Daniel with a touch (verse 18). This is exactly what we pray for in relation to others who are suffering or in distress, and this is how God may answer if he is willing.

It is astonishing that this powerful angel left his ongoing battle with “the spirit prince of the kingdom of Persia” (verse 20, NLT) to inform Daniel about the future of his people and Jerusalem. Perhaps this glimpse of angelic war indicated to Daniel why the Jews who went to Jerusalem were still suffering opposition. Their enemies were not just human ones. [Neither are ours!]

Miller points out that this spiritual struggle of angels against demons would continue for over two centuries of Persian rule (539–331 B.C.) and adds: “This struggle involved all of the decisions and relationships pertaining to the Jews during the Persian period (e.g., the reconstruction of the temple, deliverance of the Jews during the time of Esther, permission for Ezra and Nehemiah to return, and their subsequent construction of the city).”[1]

When that long battle ends with the fall of Persia, it will be replaced by a new one when “the spirit prince of the kingdom of Greece will come” (verse 20b, NLT). Of course, Daniel already knows that the Persian kingdom will be replaced by a Greek kingdom because he was explicitly told that in a previous vision (Dan. 8:21). But he had not known until this moment that the ferocity of the Greek king would be inspired by a powerful demon. The participation of the angelic warrior against the coming Grecian kingdom will prove all too necessary as the detailed prophecies of chapter 11 will show. The Jews will face many threats during the period of Greek dominance, especially during the rule of Antiochus IV.

Before returning to the angelic battle, the warrior-angel carries out the strategic mission of revealing to Daniel additional details concerning the future of the Jews and Jerusalem (presented in chapters 11–12). What he reveals is trustworthy because it is recorded in a reliable record (“the Book of Truth,” NIV for verse 21a) to which the angel has access.

Before presenting details about events to come, the warrior-angel returns to a description of the forces Yahweh has deployed to defend the Jews. In the fight against the spirit princes of Persia and Greece, the warrior-angel has but one ally, “Michael, your prince” (verse 21b). Both here and in Dan. 12:1 we find that Michael is a powerful angel specially charged with defending the Jews against Satanic attack. They both worked together in the crucial first year of Darius the Mede, also known as Cyrus (verse 11:1). Wood says, “Thus it comes to be known that Cyrus’s decision to let the Jews go had been accomplished by God working through these two high angels.”[2]

A strategic briefing

Human interest in angels has always been intense, but it has sometimes been guided more by speculation than by revelation. Paul warns us that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 6:12).

It is apparent that how nations treat the Jews is a great concern to Yahweh. That being the case, we would project that considerable angelic power is brought to bear on the United States, which is the home of almost as many Jews as the nation of Israel. Further, it is plain in the Bible that anti-Semitism is displeasing to God; those who engage in it are giving aid to the enemy. This does not mean that we must condone every act of the Israeli government or Jews in general. God is well able to discipline those who need it without our help.

We are caught up in a long war between God’s holy angels and those angels who followed Satan in rebellion.  Revelation 12:7 informs us of war in heaven itself, when Michael led the angelic forces that defeated Satan and cast him and his angels down to the earth (Rev. 12:7–9). This is not some remote problem because Satan acts “to wage war against … those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus” (Rev. 12:17).

Christians gather in groups to learn and to pray and to show love not just as a matter of tradition, but for mutual protection! We are stronger for Christ together than we are separately. The Lord fights for us and gives us this promise:

Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 8:38–39

Copyright © 2015 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Miller, Daniel, 288.

[2] Wood, Daniel, 279.

Exposition of Daniel 10:10-14 The angelic front of the Great War

Daniel 10:10–14

10 A hand touched me and set me trembling on my hands and knees. 11 He said, “Daniel, you who are highly esteemed, consider carefully the words I am about to speak to you, and stand up, for I have now been sent to you.” And when he said this to me, I stood up trembling.

12 Then he continued, “Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. 13 But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia. 14 Now I have come to explain to you what will happen to your people in the future, for the vision concerns a time yet to come.”

The angelic front of the Great War

Since Daniel proved unable to hear the voice of the Messiah, an angelic messenger lifts him to his feet while declaring that he has “now been sent” (verse 11) to explain things that Daniel is commanded to understand. Though still trembling, Daniel is strengthened to listen and learn.

What the angel reveals is astonishing because it describes spiritual activity — both influence on specific people and conflict with one another — that goes on all the time but is unseen by humanity. The angel reassures Daniel and explains that his humble heart triggered a response from heaven on day one of his fast (verse 12)! So, why did it take 21 days for the message to arrive? The answer is that the angel was resisted by “the prince of the kingdom of Persia” (verse 13). Wood explains, “These matters taken together show that this adversary was a demon, no doubt of high rank, assigned by the chief of demons, Satan, to Persia as his special area of activity.”[1] If that sounds odd, recall that Cyrus, king of Persia, is the one who returned many Jews to Jerusalem and whose further decisions would affect their welfare. The entirety of Revelation 12 tracks the attempts of Satan to attack the Jews, kill the Messiah and dominate the earth, so influencing Persian policy was vital!

The messenger-angel was not able to reach Daniel, a subject of king Cyrus of Persia, until greater angelic power was brought to bear in the person of Michael, “one of the chief princes” (verse 13). The standard Hebrew lexicon says that here prince means “a higher being, a guardian angel.”[2] Miller summarizes: “From this passage several important facts are evident concerning angels: (1) angels are real; (2) there are good and evil angels; (3) angels can influence the affairs of human beings. Particularly, this passage teaches that angels inspire human governments and their leaders.”[3] From this conclusion we can understand why Paul commands Christians to pray “for kings and for all those in authority” (1 Timothy 2:2) no matter how we may feel about them. Our lives may depend on it!

In a book that emphasizes God’s rule over all things, it is vital to know that he rules over the unseen realm as surely as over the part we plainly see. His temporary tolerance of rebellion, both human and angelic is no sign of weakness or disinterest. Miller quotes a wise statement by Old Testament scholar Gleason Archer: “‘While God can, of course, override the united resistance of all the forces of hell if he chooses to do so, he accords to demons certain limited powers of obstruction and rebellion somewhat like those he allows humans. In both cases the exercise of free will in opposition to the Lord of heaven is permitted by him when he sees fit.’”[4] Of course, even limited rebellion has serious consequences as the punishment of the Jews amply demonstrates!

Verse 14 describes the scope of what the angel came to tell Daniel. He will explain future events that involve “your people” (the Jews). These events are said to be “in the future” (NIV), but, in fact, the phrase means “in the latter days,” as we said in connection with Daniel 2:28. Miller explains, “Normally the phrase describes events that will occur just prior to and including the coming of the kingdom of God upon the earth.”[5]

We will soon discover that the angel’s message focuses on Antiochus IV Epiphanes (who ruled 175 B.C. to 163 B.C.) and his Satanic, end-times counterpart the Antichrist. Both men were of interest to Daniel, but the second one is our chief concern today.

Copyright © 2015 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Wood, Daniel, 272.

[2] HALOT, sar, prince, q.v.

[3] Miller, Daniel, 285.

[4] Miller, Daniel, 286, quoting G. Archer, Daniel, 125.

[5] Miller, Daniel, 286–7.

Exposition of Daniel 10:1-9 Daniel’s vision of the Messiah

Daniel 10:1-9

1 In the third year of Cyrus king of Persia, a revelation was given to Daniel (who was called Belteshazzar). Its message was true and it concerned a great war. The understanding of the message came to him in a vision.

2 At that time I, Daniel, mourned for three weeks. 3 I ate no choice food; no meat or wine touched my lips; and I used no lotions at all until the three weeks were over.

4 On the twenty-fourth day of the first month, as I was standing on the bank of the great river, the Tigris, 5 I looked up and there before me was a man dressed in linen, with a belt of fine gold from Uphaz around his waist. 6 His body was like topaz, his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and his voice like the sound of a multitude.

7 I, Daniel, was the only one who saw the vision; those who were with me did not see it, but such terror overwhelmed them that they fled and hid themselves. 8 So I was left alone, gazing at this great vision; I had no strength left, my face turned deathly pale and I was helpless. 9 Then I heard him speaking, and as I listened to him, I fell into a deep sleep, my face to the ground.

Once again Daniel anchors his last vision in history by mentioning “the third year of Cyrus king of Persia” (verse 1). Miller explains, “Cyrus’s third year would have been 536/535 B.C., two years after Gabriel’s appearance to Daniel in chapter 9 and a short while after the first return of the Jewish exiles to Palestine.”[1] By this time Daniel is 83 to 85 years of age. Historical evidence indicates that Cyrus was not frequently called “king of Persia,”[2] but there is a reason he is so designated here, and that reason will emerge later in the chapter.

The vision itself “concerned a great war,” a statement that may be considered a monumental understatement! The war described in chapters 10–12 spans at least 2,500 years and involves both angelic forces and human beings on each side. Both the Messiah and Satan appear to be directly involved. When the conflict ends, the earth will never return to what it was before.

Daniel switches from a narrator’s voice (third person) in verse 1 to a first-person viewpoint in verses 2–3. He probably does so in order to better relate a very personal encounter. In the midst of an extended fast, he expresses great sorrow, probably because he has heard about the devastated condition of Jerusalem and the harassment endured by the Jews who have recently returned to Palestine (Nehemiah 1:4; Ezra 4:5, 24).

Daniel is away from the capital and standing on the banks of the Tigris river, which passes just 20 miles west of Babylon. “Behold, a man” appeared over the Tigris, with an awesome appearance that defies adequate description (verses 5–6). Many scholars believe this man is Gabriel, who had appeared to Daniel twice before (Dan. 8:16 and 9:21). But Wood objects: “If so, however, it is strange that he is not mentioned by name, as he was in those chapters. Also, he is described at length here and was not before.”[3] We agree with Miller, who says, “That this person was God seems to be the correct view not only because of the overwhelming effect of his presence on Daniel but because of the similar appearance of [God] presented in Ezek. 1:26–28 and the even closer parallel to the portrait of Christ in Rev. 1:12–16.”[4] The appearances of the Messiah are like bookends for chapters 10–12 in that he appears to Daniel in chapter 10 and again in chapter 12, where his final words to Daniel end the book.

The vision of the man over the river was seen only by Daniel. Verse 7 is unusually emphatic in Hebrew: “I saw, I, Daniel, I alone.” Those with him, whether companions or a security detail, were so overwhelmed with terror that they ran away and hid themselves. A similar experience happened to Paul and his companions on the road to Damascus, when Jesus appeared to Paul (Acts 9:1–7).

As sometimes happens during overwhelming emotion, Daniel releases his hold on consciousness and slumps with his face to the ground (verse 9). No one may encounter the living God without being changed. Perhaps it is not accidental that, at the conclusion of chapter 12, the Messiah speaks of Daniel going to his rest until the resurrection on the last day; certainly he had some involuntary rest on this day.

Copyright © 2015 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Miller, Daniel, 276.

[2] Miller, Daniel, 276, footnote 2.

[3] Wood, Daniel, 267–8.

[4] Miller, Daniel, 281–2.

Exposition of Daniel 9:15-21 Daniel’s prayer – the desolation of Yahweh’s “holy hill”

15 “Now, Lord our God, who brought your people out of Egypt with a mighty hand and who made for yourself a name that endures to this day, we have sinned, we have done wrong. 16 Lord, in keeping with all your righteous acts, turn away your anger and your wrath from Jerusalem, your city, your holy hill. Our sins and the iniquities of our ancestors have made Jerusalem and your people an object of scorn to all those around us.

17 “Now, our God, hear the prayers and petitions of your servant. For your sake, Lord, look with favor on your desolate sanctuary. 18 Give ear, our God, and hear; open your eyes and see the desolation of the city that bears your Name. We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy. 19 Lord, listen! Lord, forgive! Lord, hear and act! For your sake, my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name.”

20 While I was speaking and praying, confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel and making my request to the LORD my God for his holy hill — 21 while I was still in prayer, Gabriel, the man I had seen in the earlier vision, came to me in swift flight about the time of the evening sacrifice.

Having spoken of God’s greatness and his people’s sin, Daniel turns his attention to specific actions he is seeking. Specifically, he asks that Yahweh withdraw his wrath from Jerusalem (verse 16) and treat both Jerusalem and the desolate temple there with his favor (verses 17–18). This request rests upon God’s promise in Lev. 26:42b.

Verse 18b deserves special attention: “We do not make requests of you because we are righteous, but because of your great mercy.” Everything we need starts with God’s mercy. As Christians, we do not stand on the same ground as Daniel. Because Jesus has died for our sins, the Scriptures say, “Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). We are not descendants of Abraham, as Daniel was, but we rely on God’s mercy as surely as he did. Even better news, Yahweh is full of mercy!

In the moment that Daniel’s prayer reaches “a passionate crescendo,”[1] the angel Gabriel swiftly approaches to reveal a vast span of God’s plans. In effect, Gabriel will reveal that God’s people are nearing the end of the original 70-year punishment, but the seven-fold enhancement of their penalty still lay in Daniel’s future.

Copyright © 2015 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] Miller, Daniel, 249.

Exposition of Daniel 9:7-14 Daniel’s prayer – God’s actions shown to be just

Daniel 9:7-14 

7 “Lord, you are righteous, but this day we are covered with shame — the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem and all Israel, both near and far, in all the countries where you have scattered us because of our unfaithfulness to you. 8 We and our kings, our princes and our ancestors are covered with shame, LORD, because we have sinned against you. 9 The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him; 10 we have not obeyed the LORD our God or kept the laws he gave us through his servants the prophets. 11 All Israel has transgressed your law and turned away, refusing to obey you.”

11b “Therefore the curses and sworn judgments written in the Law of Moses, the servant of God, have been poured out on us, because we have sinned against you. 12 You have fulfilled the words spoken against us and against our rulers by bringing on us great disaster. Under the whole heaven nothing has ever been done like what has been done to Jerusalem. 13 Just as it is written in the Law of Moses, all this disaster has come on us, yet we have not sought the favor of the LORD our God by turning from our sins and giving attention to your truth. 14 The LORD did not hesitate to bring the disaster on us, for the LORD our God is righteous in everything he does; yet we have not obeyed him.

Daniel makes a sober assessment of the behavior that has taken place within the covenant between Yahweh and the sons of Israel. The result is the dramatic contrast described in verse 7 in which God is vindicated — proven righteous — and the people of Judah and all Israel “are covered with shame.” Daniel does not leave out the ten northern tribes comprising Israel when he speaks of their being sent to “all the countries where you have scattered us” (see also Lev. 26:33).

Daniel clearly understands why this punishment has come: God always keeps his Word, even those parts we tend to ignore. Your life will unfold ever so much better if you keep that in mind! Daniel spells out the direct reason for their current condition: “Therefore the curses and sworn judgments written in the Law of Moses, the servant of God, have been poured out on us, because we have sinned against you” (verse 11b).

In the midst of life’s routines, it sometimes fails to register that our behavior has real consequences. Because God created us in his image, we and our actions have significance. God did not punish Israel on a whim; they disobeyed his commands and ignored his warnings. All of it was spelled out in the Law of Moses. Christians are not responsible to keep the Law of Moses, but God has defined our similar responsibilities to him in the New Testament.

NIV’s translation of verse 14a (“The LORD did not hesitate to bring the disaster on us”) tries to smooth out a difficult text. Recall that the Law of Moses contained both blessing and cursing sections and also flatly predicted the eventual disloyalty of the people and their removal from the land Yahweh had given to them. That removal is “the disaster” that God withheld until the appropriate time. The Hebrew text offers the idea that Yahweh “kept watch over the calamity” until the moment he released it upon the Jews. Even then, God cared for his people by elevating Daniel and others (Lev. 26:44-45).

In our day pollsters tell us that many reply “None” when asked their religious affiliation. A good number of those people are hoping that they can go their way and God will go his — live and let live; no harm no foul; “it’s all good.” All of that is wishful nonsense! Those who fail to seek God and learn what he requires of them will find that he still holds them responsible. Do you know from his Word what he wants from you? Know your responsibilities to our God!

Copyright © 2015 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

Exposition of Daniel 9:1-6 The context of Daniel’s prayer

Daniel 9:1-6 

1 In the first year of Darius son of Xerxes (a Mede by descent), who was made ruler over the Babylonian kingdom — 2 in the first year of his reign, I, Daniel, understood from the Scriptures, according to the word of the LORD given to Jeremiah the prophet, that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years. 3 So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes. 4 I prayed to the LORD my God and confessed:

“Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps his covenant of love with those who love him and keep his commandments, 5 we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from your commands and laws. 6 We have not listened to your servants the prophets, who spoke in your name to our kings, our princes and our ancestors, and to all the people of the land.

Daniel follows his normal practice of connecting to historical events by providing a date tied to the name of a ruler (verse 1). NIV is almost alone in giving the ruler’s name as Darius son of Xerxes, where the italicized word is the Greek for the name Ahasuerus. Both Xerxes (Greek) and Ahasuerus (Hebrew) are transliterations [spelling in another language] of a throne-name similar to “Pharaoh” or “Caesar.”[1] In another 2500 years our word “President” will similarly need explanation.

Although the matter is disputed, we identify this ruler, “Darius son of Ahasuerus” (ESV),  as Cyrus the Great, also known as Darius the Mede (Daniel 5:31) and Cyrus the Persian; Cyrus’s mother was Median and his father was Persian; because he was a great success, everyone claimed him! The first year of his reign was 539-538 B.C., at which time Daniel was likely more than eighty years old.

God keeps his word — all of his word

It is important to realize that the issues presented in Daniel 9 did not begin with Daniel or even with the deportation of Judah to Babylonian captivity. By studying the words given by Yahweh to Jeremiah the prophet, whose messages Daniel heard while living in Jerusalem, Daniel uncovers a fraction of the history leading to his people’s captivity in Babylon.

In verse 2, Daniel understands from Jeremiah’s prophecies (Jeremiah 25:11-12) that “the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years.” Other Scriptures, such as Dan. 9:11b and 9:13, inform us that the reason for this number 70 was that God’s people had failed to obey the Law of Moses. In particular, 2 Chronicles 36:20-21 relate the captivity years to “sabbatical years” (NET).  What does that mean? To answer this question we must return to Mount Sinai where the exodus generation was being instructed how to behave in the land God had promised but not yet given to them, the land of Canaan.

At Sinai, Yahweh told Moses that “the land itself must observe a sabbath to the Lord” (Leviticus 25:2). Every seventh year in the land, the people could not sow their fields or prune their vines. They would live on the bounty granted in the previous year to let the land rest during the seventh year. Further, the people were required to count off “seven sabbath years — seven times seven years — so that the seven sabbath years amount to forty-nine years” (Lev. 25:8). That forty-ninth year was a sabbath year, and was followed by the Jubilee Year when slaves were freed, debts forgiven, and land returned to those who received it from Yahweh as their inheritance in Canaan.

Eventually, the people neglected these sabbath years and often failed to observe them. That was a grave mistake that brought severe consequences. As Harold Hoehner, a New Testament scholar and historian, puts it, “Each year of captivity represented one seven-year cycle in which the seventh or Sabbath year had not been observed.”[2] Yahweh keeps track of everything going on with his people, and with everyone else as well.

In the first instance, those seventy ignored sabbath years determined the length of the captivity in Babylon and the desolation of Jerusalem. But that is not the full story! In Leviticus 26, Yahweh warns the people that if they ignore his blessings and disobey him, the result will be: “I will punish you for your sins seven times over” (Lev. 26:18). To reinforce the point, he repeats this seven-fold enhancement of punishment two more times (Lev. 26:21, 28). Yahweh also promises that the land will certainly gets its prescribed sabbath rest during their absence in the land of their enemies (Lev. 26:34-35)!

Now we do the math. Seventy years of punishment for missed sabbath years times an enhancement factor of seven yields 490 years (70 x 7 = 490). In his prayer Daniel expresses concern about relief at the end of seventy calendar years of captivity, but Gabriel’s answer spans all 490 years of additional punishment that is due because of the enhancement.

Here is a key idea for using the above information in the interpretation of chapter 9: Yahweh will apply those 490 years of punishment in whatever way pleases him. He is not bound by the common but misguided expectation that he will start the clock at 0 and let it run continuously to reach 490 years. Later we will learn how Yahweh will distribute the punishment.

Daniel’s prayer — A necessary confession of rebellion

Certainly Daniel’s prayer is profound and theologically significant. But, since God has already revealed that the captivity in Babylon would last seventy years, why does he think it necessary to pray for an end to God’s anger against his people? The answer lies in Lev. 26:40-42, verses that record Yahweh’s promise to respond to the confession of sin and demonstration of humility by the people in Babylonian captivity. Perhaps it was Daniel’s earnest attention to these issues of confession and humility that satisfied what God had stated in Leviticus 26. In other words, Daniel carefully considered what Yahweh had said and acted accordingly.

ESV skillfully presents Daniel’s description of Yahweh: “the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments” (verse 4). Note the sequence covenant-love-love-commandments; this type of A-B-B-A structure is common in the Old Testament. God’s covenants usually include both blessing sections and cursing sections, corresponding to his people’s obedience or disobedience, respectively. People today are often drawn to emphasize God’s love and to downplay his commandments. That emphasis can put us just one step away from thinking that we can risk a little disobedience since God loves us. That is exactly how God’s people ignored many sabbath years and wound up in Babylon!

The Hebrew verbs in verse 4 are significant. The first verb (translated by “prayed”) stresses the function of intercession, in which Daniel takes on the role of advocacy on behalf of God’s people and his desolated holy place, including both the temple and Jerusalem. This is not a prayer about relative trivia; it addresses subjects worthy of attention from the ruler of heaven and earth. As believers, we too are worthy of his attention, a fact that is a result of his mercy and kindness.

The second verb (translated as “confessed”) stresses acknowledgement — a fascinating, double-edged verb that, when it concerns Yahweh, amounts to praise, and, when it concerns Daniel and the people, amounts to confession.  When we properly acknowledge God, we are praising him for who he is and what he does. When we acknowledge our own condition, we must confess that God is not finished with us, and — worse — that our hearts are sometimes in rebellion against him.

Verse 9b is stated a bit better by the ESV: “O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments.” Note particularly the italicized portion. Yahweh always upholds his side of the relationship, and he always extends loyal love toward those who are loyal to him and obedient. The fact that the Jews suffer in Babylon is not the result of any failure on Yahweh’s part to keep the covenant; their condition flows directly from their disloyal worship of idols and their failure to carry out their role under the covenant.

Verses 4-6 name many types of sin and make the point that Yahweh had repeatedly warned his people through the prophets, but they did not listen. Those who fail to listen to God are cruising toward the rocks.

Copyright © 2015 Barry Applewhite, Plano, Texas. All rights reserved worldwide. Derived from materials created for Christ Fellowship, McKinney, Texas. Used by permission.

[1] According to Goldingay, Daniel, 239, the name Ahasuerus is the Hebrew spelling of an Old Persian throne-name likely meaning “hero among rulers.”

[2] Harold Hoehner, “Daniel’s Seventy Weeks and New Testament Chronology,” Bibliotheca Sacra 132 (January–March 1975) 49.