Daniel 9:20-27 – The Prophecy of the Seventy Sevens

The history of the exegesis of the 70 Weeks is the Dismal Swamp of O.T. criticism…. the trackless wilderness of assumptions and theories in the efforts to obtain an exact chronology fitting into the history of Salvation, after these 2,000 years of infinitely varied interpretations, would seem to preclude any use of the 70 Weeks for the determination of a definite prophetic chronology. J. A. Montgomery, Commentary on the Book of Daniel, 400-401.

In Daniel 9 Daniel reads from a scroll of Jeremiah and understands the 70-year exile must be coming to an end. While Daniel is praying an angel is sent to him to give an answer to his prayer. Unfortunately it was not the answer he may have been expecting. Rather than a confirmation the Judah’s exile would soon be over, Daniel is told the seventy years have become seventy “weeks of years,” or 490 years in all. At the end of the period prophecy and vision will be sealed up and the Most Holy Place will be anointed (9:24).

However, before the 490 years are complete the final seven years (the seventieth week) will be a time of war and desolation. At the end of the sixty-ninth week, the “anointed one will be cut off and have nothing,” the ruler of the people to come will destroy the Jerusalem and the sanctuary and the “end will come like a flood.” This ruler will confirm a covenant but break it in the middle of the final seven-year period. When he breaks the covenant he will put an end to sacrifice and “set up an abomination that causes desolation.” (9:27).

Is this a literal period of 490 years? If so, when does the period end? The majority of modern commentators (Hartman and Di Lella, Driver, and Montgomery, for example) think the years are literal and extend into the reign of Antiochus IV Epiphanes. The beginning of the period is the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C., although the “decree” is Jeremiah’s prophecy (dated to 605 B.C.) As is well known, Antiochus desecrates the altar in the Temple by sacrificing a pig, something which can be describing as an “abomination that causes desolation.” The rededication of the temple after Antiochus was in 164 B.C., so the period is about 65 years short. For most, this is simply a miscalculation on the part of the second-century writer (Montgomery, 393).

In this view, the “cutting off of the anointed one” is the assassination of Onias III the high priest, about 170 B.C. Sacrifices stopped for a slightly more than three years, not quite a full three and a half years (time, times and half a time, 1260 days), nor is the period 2300 mornings and evenings from Daniel 8:14 accurate, either as 1150 days or a full 2300 days (neither number is three and a half years or a full seven years).  Nevertheless, the numbers work out generally to the time of Antiochus IV Epiphanes and the period of seven years is approximately correct. Stylized apocalyptic numbers do not need to be precisely accurate; there is no need to impose modern precision on the seventy sevens.

A second approach is to interpret the years are symbolic of the time from the end of the exile to the coming of messiah. E. J. Young argued a “seven” was an indefinite period of time and ran the whole 490 years from the return from exile up to the time of Christ. Even the last seven has been completed, starting sometime in the ministry of Christ and ending before A.D. 70. (Young, Daniel, 203).

A third approach takes the years as a literal period of time, but begins the period with the decree to rebuild Jerusalem (not Cyrus’ decree). The first 483 years begin with the Artaxerxes permitting Nehemiah return to Jerusalem and rebuild the city (Neh 2), approximately 445 BC. The 483 period ends sometime in the ministry of Jesus. There are several very detailed attempts to count days and calculate the exact moment in Jesus’s ministry the 483 years end (the most common suggestion is Jesus’s baptism or the triumphal entry). But this is almost impossible since the years may be lunar or solar, there may be intercalculary months, etc. The cutting off of the anointed one is the crucifixion, but the final seven year people is still in the future.

In this view, the book of Revelation picks up the final seven year period to describe a final confrontation between the arrogant kingdom of man and God’s coming kingdom. The Christian writer to first suggest this appears to have been Julius Africanus in A.D. 200, mentioned in Jerome’s commentary on Daniel. But even here, there are scholars who interpret the tribulation described in Revelation as wholly fulfilled by the Roman destruction of Jerusalem or persecution of Christians in the late first century. Others read Revelation as looking to the distant future and events leading up to the return of Messiah Jesus to establish his kingdom.

Which approach is best? Theological presuppositions often guide the answer to this question. If an interpreter is committed to a second-century date, then the author of Daniel only knows history up to the 160’s B.C. and only the first view is viable. But the prophecy of Daniel was read in the first century as not completely exhausted by the events leading up to the rededication of the Temple. Jesus alludes to Daniel 9 and the “abomination that causes desolation” in Mark 13:14. For Jesus, this is still a future event: “when you see ii, then let those in Judea flee…” Revelation is another thread of evidence that at least some Jewish Christians expected a future seven-year period of extreme suffering prior to the coming of the Messiah.

If the seventy years of captivity is taken literally by Daniel, it seems reasonable to take the extension of the seventy years as a literal period as well. I really do think the events leading up the Rededication of the Temple are part of Daniel’s vision, but prophecy often predicts something in the near future which also refers to the eschatological age.

The third option seems to be the way the text was read in the first century, “how soon until the exile was really over?”

Daniel 8 –The Ram and the Goat

Daniel 8 is an expansion on the four-kingdom scheme of chapters 2 and 7, expanding on events during the third empire. The vision concerns the fall of Persia and the establishment of the Greek empire. As Miller observes, nearly every commentator agrees this prophecy concerns the events of the reign of Antiochus IV Epiphanes, although they disagree on whether the events are prophetically described by Daniel or current events cast as prophecy by an unknown second century writer (Daniel, 219)

Ram, Goat

The time is identified as the third year of Belshazzar’s reign, about 550 B.C. About this same time Cyrus the Persian was consolidating his power with the Medes. About twelve years later Cyrus will capture Babylon while Belshazzar held a great banquet (Daniel 5).

Daniel is “in the citadel in Susa” (v.1). The city of Susa was built on the Ulai Canal and was the capitol of the Persian Empire. Was Daniel literally in the city of Susa? He may have been in the city on some business for the government of Babylon, or perhaps he retired to the city.  Josephus (Antiquities 10.11.7) seems to think he was physically in the city. It is more likely Daniel was transported in his vision to Susa. This is similar to Ezekiel’s visionary experience, he is caught up and taken from Babylon to Jerusalem to witness the glory of the Lord departing form the city (Ezek 8-11).

Daniel has an unusual vision of a ram fighting a goat (8:3-14) which is interrupted by an angelic guide in 8:15-26). A ram with two unequally sized horns represents the Medes and Persians (v. 20). This ram begins its conquest in the east and goes in the three other directions just as Persia was in the east and made conquests into the west (literally to the sea, the Mediterranean Sea), then south into Egypt and north into Asia Minor.

The goat with a prominent horn (8:5-8) is interpreted as the king of Greece (8:21), undoubtedly Alexander the Great. Some will point out the first king of Macedon was led to a location by a herd of goats where he founded a city, Aege, or the Goat City. The goat comes out of the west very fast and destroys the ram. This fits well with what we know about the conquest of the world by Alexander.  Alexander may have been motivated to conquest because of Persian invasions of Greece in 490 B.C. by Darius I and 480 by Xerxes.

After the prominent horn is cut off, it is replaced by four horn, likely referring to the Diadochi, the Greek generals who took parts of Alexander’s empire after his death. But they are not the main interest of this vision, Daniel saw a “little horn” (8:9-14), undoubtedly the same as the little horn in Daniel 7. Stephen Miller argues this is not possible, since the little horn in chapter 7 is associated with the blasphemy of the final kingdom prior to the establishment of the kingdom of God.  Chapter 8 concerns the Greek kingdom, the third beast in chapter 7 (Daniel, 225, note 22).

This little horn will cause some of the starry host to fall (8:10). This begins with the assassination of Onias III in 170, the sacking of the temple in 169, and the general persecution of Jews in the period which follows (see also 1 Maccabees 1:41-64; 2 Maccabees 6:1-5).

2 Maccabees 5:11-14 When news of what had happened reached the king, he took it to mean that Judea was in revolt. So, raging inwardly, he left Egypt and took the city by storm. 12 He commanded his soldiers to cut down relentlessly everyone they met and to kill those who went into their houses. 13 Then there was massacre of young and old, destruction of boys, women, and children, and slaughter of young girls and infants. 14 Within the total of three days eighty thousand were destroyed, forty thousand in hand-to-hand fighting, and as many were sold into slavery as were killed.

1 Maccabees 1:29-34 Two years later the king sent to the cities of Judah a chief collector of tribute, and he came to Jerusalem with a large force. 30 Deceitfully he spoke peaceable words to them, and they believed him; but he suddenly fell upon the city, dealt it a severe blow, and destroyed many people of Israel. 31 He plundered the city, burned it with fire, and tore down its houses and its surrounding walls. 32 They took captive the women and children, and seized the livestock. 33 Then they fortified the city of David with a great strong wall and strong towers, and it became their citadel. 34 They stationed there a sinful people, men who were renegades. These strengthened their position.

The little horn sets itself up as the “prince” of that fallen host (11). Antiochus attempted to set himself against God when he forbade the practice of the Jewish Law (1 Maccabees 1:41-50).

The little horn will take away the daily sacrifice and brought low the sanctuary (11). The daily sacrifice (tamid) was to be offered twice each day.  Priests offered sacrifices on behalf of all the people (Exodus 29:38-41, Numbers 28:3-8). In 167 B.C. Antiochus ordered these daily sacrifices to be stopped (1 Maccabees 1:44-45).

The sacrifices are suspended for 2300 days.  There are several schemes for showing paralleling with Antiochus’ suspension of sacrifice. Is this 1150 days, since there 2300 are morning and evening sacrifices?  Keil argues a Jewish reader would never read the text half-days, since a “morning and evening” is a complete day (Daniel, 304). This is a period of three years and 55 days, the period begins on just before the altar is desecrated and ends with the temple is rededicated in 168 B.C. Alternatively, the time from the murder of Onias III (the legitimate High Priest, killed by Antiochus) in 171 and the death of Antiochus in 164.

Does the little horn only refer to Antiochus? Is there any room for “future” fulfillment of these prophecies? Is this an example of multiple fulfillment of prophecy? Did Daniel’s vision only concern events leading up to the Maccabean Revolt, or did the vision concern a time events leading up to the coming of the Messiah in the future?

Daniel 7:9-14 – The Heavenly Throne Room

Daniel 7:9-14 is an apocalyptic throne room scene. The description of a great throne room is common in prophetic and apocalyptic literature. Isaiah has his inaugural vision of the Lord, “high and exalted, seated on his throne,” surrounded by angelic creatures (Isaiah 6:1-5). Ezekiel’s first vision describes the glory of God as a glowing otherworldly man seated on a throne of lapis lazuli accompanied by strange “living creatures” (Ezek 1:25-28).

1 Enoch has several throne room scenes similar to Daniel 7:9-14.

1 Enoch 14:18-25 18 And I observed and saw inside it a lofty throne—its appearance was like crystal and its wheels like the shining sun; and (I heard?) the voice of the cherubim; 19 and from beneath the throne were issuing streams of flaming fire. It was difficult to look at it.  20 And the Great Glory was sitting upon it—as for his gown, which was shining more brightly than the sun, it was whiter than any snow. 21 None of the angels was able to come in and see the face of the Excellent and the Glorious One; and no one of the flesh can see him—22 the flaming fire was round about him, and a great fire stood before him. No one could come near unto him from among those that surrounded the tens of millions (that stood) before him. 23 He needed no council, but the most holy ones who are near to him neither go far away at night nor move away from him. 24 Until then I was prostrate on my face covered and trembling. And the Lord called me with his own mouth and said to me, “Come near to me, Enoch, and to my holy Word.” 25 And he lifted me up and brought me near to the gate, but I (continued) to look down with my face.

1 Enoch 40:1-2 And after that, I saw a hundred thousand times a hundred thousand, ten million times ten million, an innumerable and uncountable (multitude) who stand before the glory of the Lord of the Spirits. 2 I saw them standing—on the four wings of the Lord of the Spirits—and saw four other faces among those who do not slumber, and I came to know their names, which the angel who came with me revealed to me; and he (also) showed me all the hidden things.

1 Enoch 60:1-3  In the year five hundred, in the seventh month, on the fourteenth day of the month in the life of Enoch; in the same parable (I saw) that the heaven of heavens was quaking and trembling with a mighty tremulous agitation, and the forces of the Most High and the angels, ten thousand times a million and ten million times ten million, were agitated with great agitation. 2 And the Antecedent of Time was sitting on the throne of his glory surrounded by the angels and the righteous ones. 3 (Then) a great trembling and fear seized me and my loins and kidneys lost control. So I fell upon my face.

Like Isaiah 6, Ezekiel 1 and Daniel 7, Enoch sees a flaming throne and a being with bright clothing light lightning. The name of the one on the throne in Daniel “Ancient of Days” is similar to the “Antecedent of Time” (sometimes translated as “the head of days.” There is a huge multitude of angelic witnesses in both Daniel and 1 Enoch, 1 Enoch also refers to four “living creatures.” Even the reaction of the visionary is similar. Isaiah cries out “woe is me” because he has seen the living God, Daniel is deeply trouble at the end of this vision (7:28) and in his final vision he is completely devastated by a vision of a man/angel/God, he falls into a deep sleep with his face to the ground (10:7-9).

In Daniel 7:9-10, the judge on the throne is the Ancient of Days. The Ancient of Days is usually interpreted as title for God even though there no other uses of the phrase in the Hebrew Bible. Identifying the on one the throne is complicated by the description of this ancient being giving his authority to the (young) son of man. The older figure sits on one throne while delegating judgment to the “son of man” on a second throne. Phillip Munoa has a list of interpretations (Four Powers in Heaven: The Interpretation of Daniel 7 in the Testament of Abraham. JSPSup 28. Sheffield: Sheffield University Press, 1998).

  • The medieval Jewish scholar Jephet took the “ancient of days” to be an angel, Ibn Ezra specified the Ancient of Days to be Michael the archangel.
  • Rabbi Hayyim Galipapa (1310-1380) identified the Ancient of Days with Matthias Maccabees, the “old man” of the Maccabean revolt, imply the “son of man” was Judas Maccabees.
  • In the sixth century Jewish text, Gedullat Mosheh, the writer identifies God as the ancient of days, but the con of man is an angel, Metatron.
  • In the Testament of Abraham, the Ancient one is Adam, the son of Man is Abel (as the protomartyr).

If Daniel is consistent with earlier apocalyptic throne room scenes then the one on the throne is God. It is his kingdom which will subdue the kingdoms of men. People of all nations will worship the son of man (7:14) and the kingdom of the Most High will be everlasting (7:26).

Who is the “Little Horn” in Daniel 7:8?

Among the ten horns, a single “little horn” makes itself prominent and “speaks blasphemously.” (Daniel 7:8) This little horn is given more details.  It has eyes and a mouth, perhaps to indicate this is a person rather than a kingdom. Eyes are often associated with pride (Isaiah 2:11, 5:15). It speaks boastfully and uproots three of the other horns. In the judgment scene which follows the other horns are not specifically judged along with the little horn.

Who this arrogant “little horn”? There are at least three possibilities. First, the majority of scholarship accepts a Maccabean origin of the book of Daniel, so this arrogant horn is an obvious reference to Antiochus IV Epiphanes. In fact, this identification seems clear in Daniel 8:23-26. The vision in Daniel 7 is therefore not prophecy, but a retelling of Judea’s relationship with Babylon, Persia, Alexander’s Greece and the Seleucid king Antiochus IV.

Second, for the minority of scholars who argue the fourth and final beast is Rome, the little horn is a Roman emperor, usually Nero or Domitian, but the first century has plenty of candidates for blasphemous kings! Revelation 13 and 17 seems to take up the imagery of beasts and arrogant horns from Daniel 7 and apply it to the Roman Empire.

Third, it is also possible to argue this arrogant little horn is a future enemy since the final kingdom is destroyed by the kingdom of God (the rock not cut by human hands in Daniel 2 or the son of man in the next paragraph). If the prophecy extends to the time of the messiah then the little horn is plausibly explained as the antichrist, the leader of the rebellion against God in the last days. I would suggest that is how Revelation read Daniel 7.

While it might sound like dodging the question, perhaps the prophecy applies to Antiochus, Rome and the end times all at once. From the perspective of the Jewish people, there will be waves of anti-Jewish kings and governments throughout history. Prophecy often functions in this way in the Hebrew Bible. Isaiah 7:14 predicts a child being born to a young woman who will be called Emmanuel. A child was born at that time, and by the time that child can eat solid food, King Ahaz’s political rivals will be gone. Yet Matthew picks up that prediction and applies it to another virgin and another child, the ultimate “God with us,” Jesus.

One reason I am favor this combination view is the problem of failed prophecy. If Daniel was written in the mid-second century BC and the little horn refers only to Antiochus IV, then the spectacular defeat and apocalyptic judgment of Antiochus never really happened. Something like a son of man does not end the power of the arrogant king, nor does the Ancient of Days establish a kingdom that is sovereign over the whole world which will never be destroyed. Daniel 7:21-22 cannot refer to the fall of Antiochus since the Ancient of Days did not come and judge in favor of the holy people.

Unless Daniel 7:21-22 is over-the-top propaganda for the Hasmonean Dynasty (and many scholars think it is), then the prediction of a king and kingdom more glorious than Babylon never happened. Readers of Daniel living in the first century AD would have certainly not agreed that Daniel 7:21-22 was fulfilled in Judas Maccabees or the Hasmonean dynasty. Apocalyptic at the end of the first century (Revelation, 4 Ezra, 2 Baruch) certainly did not think the arrogant little horn was Antiochus; by that time in history they had bigger and better arrogantly little horns, the Romans who had destroyed Jerusalem!

I know some readers will want a more precise identification of the arrogant little horn as some current political leader. But this game of “naming the antichrist” is not very productive, usually resulting in embarrassing predictions which have to be abandoned when history proves the prediction wrong. Trying to name the antichrist also misses the point of Daniel 7: God will defeat the kingdoms of man and replace it with the kingdom of God. Read from the perspective Jews enduring the oppressive policies of Antiochus IV, Rome, or Christian empires up to the present time, there is some comfort knowing God will ultimately be victorious and he will establish his rule in the future.

Daniel 7:4-8 – The Four Beasts

Virtually everyone agrees Daniel 2 and 7 are in some ways parallel, but as John Goldingay observes the four-empire scheme need not be identical (Daniel2, 371). The four metals in Daniel 2 and the four animals in Daniel 7 describe a progression of empires culminating in a fourth powerful empire which will be destroyed and replaced by an everlasting kingdom of God. In Daniel 2 a stone “not cut by human hands” strikes the weak feet and destroys the statue, “crushing the kingdoms and bringing them to an end” (2:44). In Daniel 7, the final beast will be judged by a divine court, his power taken from him (7:26) and one like a son of man will be given authority to rule a worldwide kingdom that will never be destroyed (7:14).

Four Beasts in Daniel 7Each of the first three animals are normally dangerous, but there is something hybrid or deformed about each of the beasts. The Law considered hybrid animals unclean and it was forbidden to cross-breed animals. In Babylon animals born with defects were considered bad omens. Are the unusual features important for identifying the empire implied by the imagery? If the bear is Persia, for example, do the three fangs or tusks in its mouth refer to some series of Persian kings or sub-regions of Persia, or is this simply a terrifying image of a mutant animal?

Although the interpretation of the vision in 7:15-28 does not make this specific interpretation, most agree the lion with the wings of an eagle (7:5) represents Babylon. This is based first on the parallel to Daniel 2 where the head of gold is identified as Babylon. Commentators often point to decorations of winged lions from Babylon’s the Ishtar Gate as evidence for this interpretation. Nebuchadnezzar is described as a lion (Jer 4:7) and an eagle (Lam 4:19, Ezek 17:3).

The lop-sided bear (7:5) does have some affinity with the Persian Empire since Persia is well-known from its massive (and slow moving) army. In Daniel 8 Persian is a ram against which no other animal could stand, but there is no allusion to massive size or that the ram was lumbering or slow moving. This bear is raised up one side and had three ribs in its mouth. The three ribs or perhaps tusks are sometimes identified as three major Persian conquests (Lydia, Babylonia, and Egypt) or three nations which rebelled against Babylon along with the Medes (Ararat, Minni and Ash-kenaz, see Jer 51:27-29; Gurney, 43). Or perhaps the ribs are simply a strange mutation associated with a bad omen.

The third beast is a leopard with four heads and four wings (7:6). The image seems to highlight speed, but also a divided leadership. Similar to the goat in Daniel 8, this animal moves quickly and is “given authority to rule.” Alexander the Great quickly conquered much of the eastern world, but his kingdom was divided when he died. The four heads are often seen as an allusion to the four generals who divided Alexander’s kingdom after his death: Lysimachus took Asia Minor, Ptolemy took Egypt, Cassander took Macedonia and Greece, Seleucus took Syria and Asia. On the other hand, four is sometimes used to say something “everywhere,” as in “they spread out to the four corners of the earth.” Even so, if the first two in the progression are Babylon and Persia, then this swiftly conquering beast seems to be Alexander’s Greek empire. But the four heads do not require the fourth beast to be Rome since the Seleucid dynasty was a terrifying beast like empire which sought to control Judea.

An OliphanutThe fourth beast is terrifying and vague (7:7-8). It is frightening, powerful, terrifying, has iron teeth and smashed everything.  Other than the ten horns there is no real description of the beast because it “defies and zoological category” (Montgomery, Daniel, 282).  There are simply no good comparisons for this thing! Goldingay point out the coincidental similarity of this beast to an elephant, a terrifying beast used by Antiochus IV Epiphanes when he invade and Judea.

1 Maccabees 1:17 So he invaded Egypt with a strong force, with chariots and elephants and cavalry and with a large fleet.

1 Maccabees 3:34 And he turned over to Lysias half of his forces and the elephants, and gave him orders about all that he wanted done. As for the residents of Judea and Jerusalem…

The bizarre beast has ten horns. Horns normally are associated with strength or power and the little horn appears to refer to an arrogant ruler. It may be the case the ten horns parallel to the ten toes as a “divided kingdom” (2:41). Are the toes/horns kingdoms or kings?  Are they sequential or do the ten rule at the same time?  Most attempts to suggest ten kings leading up to Antiochus IV Epiphanes or ten Roman emperors are fraught with difficulties, so some commentators argue ten refers to completeness (suggested as early as Calvin).

As is often observed, in the interpretation of this vision there is no concern for the first three kingdoms, only the final kingdom. Nor is there any interest in the other horns, only the arrogant horn. And even then, the focus of the interpretation is on the judgment and punishment of this arrogant little horn. Although there is much interest in tracing the progress of kingdoms, Daniel’s vision is focused on God’s sovereignty and judgment on the arrogant little horn.

Before examining the little horn in more detail, it is important to pause and make some observations about what this progression of empires is saying about the kingdoms of man and the sovereignty of God. First, all human empires are twisted and evil. Just as a mutant bear with fangs is an abomination within nature, so too are human attempts to exert power over the whole world. Human empires are always evil in apocalyptic literature.

Second, in contrast to the mutant evil beasts trying to rule the world, God’s appointed rule is a son of man, a human (7:13-14). Whoever this son of man is, he is a real human, unaffected by the corruption of evil. While the empires try to control the whole world, the sovereign God gives his authority to the son of man to rule a kingdom that includes all people of every language and that kingdom will never pass away or be destroyed (7:14, 27).

Daniel 6 and 1-2 Maccabees

One of the major themes of the book of Daniel is resistance to the demands of the empire for Jews to compromise core practices. In Daniel 1 the issue is food, in chapters 3 and 6 the issue is worship. For most Christians, These three chapters in Daniel are some of the most well-known stories in the Old Testament. Both the fiery furnace and the lion’s den are common Sunday School stories. They are re-told over and over again to teach children to stand up for their faith no matter what the consequences, even if second-graders are rarely told they might have to die for their faith.

Daniel in Lion's Den

Daniel actively resists the edit of Darius by continuing his regular practice of praying three times a day (Daniel 6:10). He opens the windows of his upstairs room toward Jerusalem and prays “just as he had always done.” Knowing the decree stipulated anyone not praying to the king would be executed, Daniel openly broke the king’s command and prayed to God. Daniel is arrested and thrown to the lions. Unlike Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in 3:17, Daniel is silent as he accepts the penalty for breaking the decree. He is willing to die rather than pray to the king.

Like the story on Daniel 3, God rescues Daniel from the lions by sending an angel to shut up their mouths (6:22). God vindicates Daniel and finds him innocent and once again a pagan king declares the God of Daniel is the living God who endures forever and his kingdom will endure forever (6:26-27).

Anathea Portier-Young draws a parallel between these two resistance stories to an earlier story of imperial arrogance in Isaiah 36-37 (Apocalypse against Empire, 259). The Assyrians have surrounded Jerusalem with an overwhelming army, so large Jerusalem cannot possibly survive. This point is made absolutely clear by the king’s representative Rabshakeh who speaks directly to the Judeans and informs them Judah’s own king Hezekiah is responsible for the disaster about to fall on them. His own God has sent the Assyrians to punish Hezekiah and Judah, and no one can deliver Jerusalem from the hand of the mighty Assyrian Empire. He says, “Who among all the gods of these lands have delivered their lands out of my hand, that the LORD should deliver Jerusalem out of my hand?” (Isa 36:20). Hezekiah calls out to the Lord and the Lord rescues Jerusalem from certain destruction by sending an angel to destroy the Assyrian army.

This story from Judah’s history sets a pattern followed by the four Judean exiles in Daniel 3 and 6. If they are faithful and do not defile themselves, God may miraculously save them from certain death.

Jewish readers living during the reign of Antiochus IV Epiphanes would have found this familiar. The details of Antiochus’s well-known persecutions are found in 1 and 2 Maccabees as well as Josephus. He attempted to enforce a program of Hellenization on Judeans. In 1 Maccabees 1:29-40 and 2 Maccabees 5:11-27 the Greeks plundered Jerusalem so that “Her sanctuary became desolate like a desert” (1 Macc 1:39).

There were two “paths of resistance” possible in response to the Antiochus’s demands.  One could take up arms, as Matthias and his son Judas did, or one could resist passively and be martyred rather than “profane the holy covenant.”

1 Maccabees 1:62-65 But many in Israel stood firm and were resolved in their hearts not to eat unclean food. 63 They chose to die rather than to be defiled by food or to profane the holy covenant; and they did die. 64 Very great wrath came upon Israel.

Daniel’s style of resistance in Babylon and Persia was not the path chosen by Matthias and those who actively fought against the Greeks in 1 Maccabees 2. In Daniel 3 and 6 Jewish people resistance the empire’s demand for worship and accept the fact they will die when they resist. It is possible the writer of 1 Maccabees considered the revolt sparked Mathias’s zeal as the way God chose to rescue his people. But there is no great miracle as in Isaiah 37 to destroy the Greek army, although 1 Macc 7:41 and 2 Macc 15:22 refer to this event in a prayer asking the Lord to send a “good angel” to strike down Judah’s enemies. Nor do angels appear to rescue Jews who are resisting the worship of Greek gods.  But God did work through the armed rebellion to defeat the Greek and purify the Temple.

Daniel therefore represents a different way to resist for Jews living in the Greek or Roman world. There are clear boundaries and non-negotiable practices. For Judas, it was better to rally the men of Israel to attack the enemy and drive the enemy out of the Land (Joshua style). For Daniel, it is better to resist and die the cross those lines.

Do these two paths of resistance provide a model for contemporary Christian relationship with the state? Is there any warrant for a Christian to follow the path of the Maccabeans and use violence to overthrown an oppressive government? Is the only option for the Christian to “dare to be a Daniel” and resist, suffer and perhaps die?

Daniel 6:1 – Who is Darius the Mede?

Although Daniel 6 is one of the most well-known stores in the Bible, it also has several historical details which are difficult to reconcile with history. Once problem is

The main problem is the identity of Darius the Mede. The problem is both the biblical and the extra-biblical sources identify Cyrus as the conqueror of Babylon. There is no room for the reign of another king named Darius who conquered Babylon organized the Persian Empire. Daniel 5:31 states Darius “received the kingdom” after when he was sixty-two years old. In 6:1 Darius organized the empire in 120 satrapies. The end of Daniel 6 states Cyrus the Persian ruled after Darius. In Daniel 9:1 Darius is identified as the son of Ahasuerus (not the same as Esther).

Darius the GreatThe in the Old Greek versions, the name of the king is “Artaxerxes the Mede” what was very old (rather that sixty-two years old). The second edition of the Lexham English Septuagint (2019) follows the Old Greek “full of days and glorious in old age” but retains the name Darius rather than Artaxerxes the Mede. This does not help much, but it does indicate the historical problems associated with Darius the Mede were known in antiquity.

The name Darius is common in Persian history, including Darius the Great (550–486 BC), sometimes called Darius I Hystaspes ruled over the Persian Empire and he did organize the empire into satrapies but he ruled 18 years after the fall of Babylon under Cyrus. If 6:1 refers to Darius I Hystaspes, then Daniel is very old, nearly 100. While this impossible, no mention of extraordinary age appears in the text. Daniel 6:1 Darius is reported to be sixty-two years old when he conquers Babylon, Darius I Hystaspes was in his thirties and he only organized the kingdom into twenty satrapies. Finally, Darius I Hystaspes was a Persian not a Mede.

Goldingay suggests the precise age sixty-two refers to the writing on the wall: the value of the “mena mena tekel parsin” is sixty two shekels. The years of Darius, according to Goldingay, indicate he is the one fulfilling the decree made against Belshazzar (Goldingay Daniel2, 294).

Because Darius the Mede is not found in other ancient histories, many try to explain the name on the analogy of Xerxes, who is called Ahasuerus in Esther. The most common suggestions for the identity of Darius are:

Astyages. The last king of Media (585-550 B.C.), and the king who immediately preceded Cyrus the Great. His daughter marred the Persian Cambyses, whose son was Cyrus II (“the Great”). Astyages was warned in a dream that if his grandson lived, he would overshadow him (Herodotus 1.110). Cyrus did in fact lead a Persian army against his Median grandfather, aided in part by a defection of some of Asyages’ army.

Cambyses II. Cambyses I was a Persian king of Anshan (600-559 B.C.) and was a vassal of Astyages. He married Astyages daughter Mandane, and their child was Cyrus the Great. Cyrus’ son Cambyses II (529-522). Babylonian court records describe him as overseeing affairs in Babylonia during Cyrus’ administration, although he may have been more interested in military excursions in to Egypt.

Gobryas. Gobryas or Gubaru was the Median military general in charge of the capture of Babylon described in Daniel 5. This has been the favored explanation among conservative scholars for many years, although H. H. Rowley argued strenuously against it (Darius the Mede, 21). Xenophon said Gobyras was “an Assyrian, a man well advanced in years” (Cyropaedia 4.6.1).

Several scholars have attempted to argue that Darius the Mede is another name for Cyrus the Persian, the king known from history as the conqueror of Babylon. A key argument supporting Cyrus as Darius is Wiseman’s translation of 6:29: “Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius and the reign of Cyrus the Persian.” This translation implies Darius and Cyrus are two different people. Wiseman suggests we ought to translate the waw-conjunction as “even” rather than and, on the analogy of 1 Chronicles 5:26, “Pul, even Tiglath Pilesar III was king of the Assyrians.” This solution is accepted in many conservative commentaries (Miller, Daniel, 189 for example).

Does it matter? For many interpreters of Daniel, the book was written in the Greek period and simply muddled Persian history. For conservative scholars with a faith-commitment to the truth of the Bible, there must be some explanation that preserves both the veracity of Scripture and accurate history.

It is very easy to get lost in the historical details trying to reconcile Daniel 6:1 and history and miss the point the book is actually making: The Most High God of the Judean Exiles sets up kingdoms and he brings them down. As Psalm 2:4-6 says, the one enthroned in heaven scoffs at the nations and the kings of the earth who rise up against him. This is true whether the empire is Persian, Greek, Rome, or America. Any arrogant modern empire which claims to be the greatest kingdom in the history of the world will be brought low by the One Enthroned in Heaven.