Guests: Dave Thomas and Jody Washburn
Relevant Verse: Daniel 10
Theme: Earthly crisis worked out on a cosmic stage
Leading Question: How does my prayer intersect with God’s cosmic concern?
Between Daniel’s confessional prayer in chapter 9 and the remarkable vision in chapter 10 a few years passed (539 B.C.E.–536 B.C.E). The events in Daniel 10 are dated to the first month of 536 B.C.E., the third year of King Cyrus. Over the course of these years, Daniel surely pondered over Gabriel’s revelatory response about the Messiah who will die a violent death in order to make sure that God’s covenant with His people prevails (Daniel 9:22–27). We do not know how Daniel received Gabriel’s message at the time, as he does not disclose his reaction (which is different from all other parts in the book of Daniel where we are given insight into his state of mind after an important event or vision). Nevertheless, Gabriel’s prophecy about the Messiah must have left him in an unspeakable condition, just as it would be with us when we receive a crucial message for our lives and possibly for those around us. No wonder, many of us struggle to respond or disclose our feelings in such a situation. And, the more important and consequential the message is, the harder it feels, and we take a much longer time to let others know what it means to us. For Daniel, it took about two years until we see him in mourning.
In terms of the international situation in Daniel’s world, much had changed for the elderly politician in Babylon and for his people. The first exiles had returned to their homeland in Palestine following the decree of Cyrus in 538 B.C.E. Ezra 1:1-3 says:
In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah, the LORD moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and to put it in writing: This is what Cyrus king of Persia says: “The LORD, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Anyone of his people among you–may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of the LORD, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem.”
Cyrus’ decree, recorded on a clay cylinder in Akkadian cuneiform script, was discovered in the ruins of ancient Babylon in 1879 and contains the following text (emphasis mine):
I am Kurash [ Cyrus ], King of the World, Great King, Legitimate King, King of Babilani, King of Kiengir and Akkade, King of the four rims of the earth, Son of Kanbujiya, Great King, King of Hakhamanish, Grandson of Kurash, Great king, King of Hakhamanish, descendant of Chishpish, Great king, King of Hakhamanish, of a family which always exercised kingship; whose rule Bel and Nebo love, whom they want as king to please their hearts. When I entered Babilani as a friend and when I established the seat of the government in the palace of the ruler under jubilation and rejoicing, Marduk, the great lord, induced the magnanimous inhabitants of Babilani to love me, and I was daily endeavoring to worship him…. As to the region from as far as Assura and Susa, Akkade, Eshnunna, the towns Zamban, Me-turnu, Der as well as the region of the Gutians, I returned to these sacred cities on the other side of the Tigris the sanctuaries of which have been ruins for a long time, the images which used to live therein and established for them permanent sanctuaries. I also gathered all their former inhabitants and returned them to their habitations. Furthermore, I resettled upon the command of Marduk, the great lord, all the gods of Kiengir and Akkade whom Nabonidus had brought into Babilani to the anger of the lord of the gods, unharmed, in their former temples, the places which make them happy.
One can imagine the excitement among the exiles, when this proclamation was made. As for Daniel, he could have been more than eighty years old at this time, and Daniel 10 suggests that he left Babylon and lived in the city of Susa. His advanced age would have prevented him from joining those who returned to Palestine.
In Judah, the work on the rebuilding of the temple began with great joy:
When the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the Lord, the priests in their vestments and with trumpets, and the Levites (the sons of Asaph) with cymbals, took their places to praise the Lord, as prescribed by David king of Israel. With praise and thanksgiving they sang to the Lord: “He is good; his love to Israel endures forever.” And all the people gave a great shout of praise to the Lord, because the foundation of the house of the Lord was laid. (Ezra 3:10, 11)
This excitement, however, did not last long. Soon the people rebuilding Jerusalem were faced with serious difficulties. There was strong opposition especially to the rebuilding of the Temple. Ezra 4:4, 5 says:
Then the peoples around them set out to discourage the people of Judah and make them afraid to go on building. They hired counselors to work against them and frustrate their plans during the entire reign of Cyrus king of Persia and down to the reign of Darius king of Persia.
In Persia, Cyrus promoted his son, the crown prince Cambyses, to the position of co-regent. Cambyses was neither favorable nor generous toward the Palestinian provinces and may have even been religiously hostile toward the Jews.
With Gabriel’s words about the Messiah, the Temple, and the holy city in mind while at the same time experiencing the upheavals in the newly established Persian empire and hearing about the difficult circumstances from his people in Jerusalem, Daniel decided for a most unusual period of mourning and fasting. Jacques B. Doukhan has noted that Daniel’s fasting period happened in the first month of the year, the month of Nisan, when Jews celebrated the festival of Passover and fasting was not in order. During this time, to not eat meat and drink wine was not appropriate as eating the lamb and having four coups of wine was part of the ritual meals for Passover. Only an exceptionally tragic event could have been the reason for a Jew, to violate the Passover rituals. In the case of Daniel, this could very well be news about the interruption of the Temple constructions that warrented his three-week long fast. Also, the length of the fasting time was out of place, as Daniel took three weeks instead of the biblically instructed three days (Exodus 19:10–15; cf. Esther 4;16) (Doukhan, Secrets of Daniel, 158). At the end of the three weeks of mourning, on the 24th of the month Nisan, after the week of Passover concluded, a man dressed in linen appeared to Daniel at the Tigris River in an overwhelming vision. Doukahn further observes, “it is certainly not an accident that the vision occurs against the background of Passover, which celebrates the deliverance from Egypt and sets the mood for the Promised Land” (Secrets of Daniel, 159).
Question: In what circumstances have you felt the need for a special time of devotion, prayer, mourning and fasting?
The man Daniel saw, was wearing linen, a traditional priestly dress with a golden belt (cf. Exodus 28:4, 5, 8, 39; Leviticus 16:4, 23; Ezekiel 44:17). His face and body are aflame, gleaming like precious stone, eyes like flaming torches, and his voice projects like the sound of a multitude. Everything about him is in the superlative similar to another description of a man wearing linen in Ezekiel 9:2–3, but also has the other marks and is interpreted “as the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord” (Ezekiel 1:28). In a similar way, the divine being reappears in the book of Revelation, and there is also associated with the Passover feast wearing the same priestly garment and a golden sash (Revelation 1:13). His voice too resounds like a multitude and he identifies himself as divine: “I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold, I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of Hades” (Revelation 1:15–18). In other words, the parallelism indicates that Daniel, like Ezekiel and John, had a theophany, where God himself came as human High Priest to him to the banks of the Tigris River.
When Daniel’s companions, unable to see the appearance of the man as High Priest (Hebrew mareh, in Daniel 10:7, 8, 16), fled in fear, Daniel faced the man alone. As the High Priest man began to speak, an exhausted and fearful Daniel collapsed into a deep sleep. Only because of an act of divine strengthening, Daniel tottered on his legs, and the High Priest man told him to not fear: he was there in response to Daniel’s prayer from a few years earlier when Gabriel delivered the messianic prophecy (Daniel 9:23). The High Priest man had heard Daniel’s prayer, but the prince of Persia prevented him from coming. Michael intervened and helped against the prince of Persia, and so the High Priest man came to deliver his message to Daniel (Daniel 10:13–14).
The message was about what would happen to Daniel’s people in a “time yet to come,” which sent Daniel back to the ground, without breath, and in need of an additional divine touch. This time, Daniel is in need of great strength as he is called to be at peace and not be afraid (Daniel 10:19). The message he must understand is so important that it is written in the “Book of Truth” (Daniel 10:21). Michael’s fight against hostile forces has been ongoing from the time when Daniel prayed for forgiveness and restoration in the first year of Darius (Daniel 9). This is also the when Cyrus issued the decree that the exiled people could return to their land and rebuild their city and the Temple. It seems that there were forces acting on a cosmic level and trying to hinder this important decree, and God had his hands full in fighting on behalf of His exiled people.
Question: What difference does it make to know that God works on my behalf from a cosmic level?