(A meditation on Bible history for the Queen's University student
group, in St. James' Anglican Church, Kingston, Ontario, November 24, 1999.
The message as given has been filled out with historical notes and Bible
references for those who might want to pursue this topic in greater detail).
Babylon had fallen in 539 BC, and the Persian emperor Cyrus (559-530) appointed a Mede, Darius (Gubaru = Gobryas), to function as viceroy "over the realm of the Chaldeans" (Daniel 9:1. The Persian word Ahasuerus was a royal title). Our chapter is therefore dated 538 BC. when Daniel had been removed from his important position under the Babylonians. According to one tradition he had moved to Shushan (Susa).
Daniel had been brought to Babylon as a young man (Daniel 1:3-4) in the year 605 BC. Let's say he was then 15. So he is now an old man of 82, and he finds his thoughts going back to his childhood in Jerusalem. He remembered the magnificent temple of Solomon. He was reading the book of the prophet Jeremiah (Daniel 9:2) in which there was a prophecy that the exile would end after 70 years (Jeremiah 25:11, 29:10). And since he had been exiled in 605 BC he calculated that the time of restoration should be imminent within the next two or three years. Why wasn't God doing what He had promised?
In the first part of our chapter Daniel confesses six times that he and his people have sinned. He then tells God that "for your own sake" you should do something about "your desolated sanctuary" and "the city that bears your name" (Daniel 9:17-18). He then adds that it is time for the Almighty to "listen and act and do not delay" (Daniel 9:19).
So God had to send the Archangel Gabriel to give Daniel "wisdom and understanding" (9:22). And he first assures God's faithful servant that he is "greatly beloved" (9:23). But Daniel should stop fussing because from heaven's point of view Jerusalem has already had, and will have, a long long story.
For a start the seventy weeks of exile (Daniel 9:24) did not begin when Daniel went into exile, but from the time when his Babylonian master Nebuchadnezzar had burned the temple, destroyed the city walls, and taken the nation into exile (586 BC). That meant the restoration of the temple would not be complete for another 22 years (516 BC).
Daniel should know that God already had the matter in hand. One of the first decrees of Cyrus the Persian in 539 BC was that the Jews could go back to Jerusalem and rebuild their temple (Ezra 1:1-4). And miraculously at the very time Daniel was praying and complaining (538 BC) the first exiles were on their way.
The rebuilding would be "in a troubled time," and there would be very severe opposition (Ezra 4:5-6, 24). After being put out to pasture Daniel would soon be called back to be one of the three Presidents of the western part of the Persian empire (Daniel 6:1-3). And he would have to use his influence to allow the work of rebuilding the temple to go on (Ezra 6:1-7). Partly as a result, and due to jealousy, he would be thrown at the age of 85 into the lions' den (Daniel 6:4-27. Babylonians punished by fire, but fire was sacred to the Persians so they threw offenders to be eaten by lions) .
Eventually, encouraged by the prophets Haggai and Zechariah (Haggai 1:1, 2:1, Zechariah 1:7, 7:1) the structure of the second temple would be completed exactly in God's time 516 BC (Ezra 6:15 - this was the sixth year of Darius I, 522-486, not the Darius who served under Cyrus). If Daniel lived that long he would then be 104 years old.
Another thirty-six years down the road in 480 BC the Jewish people all over the Persian empire including Jerusalem would come within an inch of total genocide (Esther 3:12-13). But God had things in hand, and through the prayers of Mordecai and Esther and many others (Esther 4:16) the tables were turned (Esther 9:1-16). To this day this deliverance is celebrated in the annual Jewish feast of Purim.
That still left Jerusalem without the city walls it needed for its defense (Nehemiah 1:3). It was not till the twentieth year of King Artaxerxes, 464-423 BC, that Nehemiah arrived and finished the task in spite of fierce opposition in 444 BC. (Nehemiah 2:1, 6:15). This meant that God would take 94 years to answer Daniel's very urgent prayer for the walls of Jerusalem (Daniel 9:18-19).
But Daniel should not imagine that the second temple and the rebuilt walls of Jerusalem would continue for ever. On December 15, 167 BC the king of Syria, Antiochus Epiphanes (c.175-163 BC), polluted the temple in Jerusalem and set up a pagan altar. Then from 19 BC Herod began work on the temple, which was still being built when Jesus came (John 2:20).
Jesus announced that the temple and city would be destroyed in the lifetime of his hearers (Matthew 23:36, 24:1-2), and that happened in AD 70. He even said that He would come and do this in the same way as He had destroyed Babylon (Isaiah 13:6-13 quoting Matthew 24:29-30, 37, see 42, 44, 46, 50). That destruction of the city was 708 years after Daniel's prayer.
A thousand years later a series of disastrous Crusades tried to recover and rebuild the city of Jerusalem. And it was not until 1948 that the State of Israel was proclaimed and Jews were again able to pray at the wailing wall. The difference was that on the mount above that wall there is now a famous Muslim mosque. Daniel certainly could not have imagined that the city he was praying for would undergo all this is in the next 2,600 years.
What interests me is that the words "anointed prince" and "anointed one" occur in Daniel 9:25 & 26. The Hebrew word for anointed is mashiakh. Saul, the first King of Israel and King David were both anointed with oil (1 Samuel 9:16, 10:1, 16:13). But David had the humility to realize that he was just a king of a small country for a time in our world, and the true anointed mashiakh Messiah was the Lord. The petty kings of our world reign for a few years, and their empires are overturned. But "He who sits in the heavens laughs; and the Lord has them (all the petty rulers of our world) in derision" (Psalm 2, see 8:9, 9:7, 11:4, 24:8-10, etc.).
That Messiah King of King of kings and Lord of lords took birth for a few years in our world, but after his ascension He continued His reign among the nations. As Paul said "He must reign until He has put all his enemies under His feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death" (1 Corinthians 15:25-26). That obviously isn't going to happen in the next six weeks before Y2K.
So what should we learn from this chapter of Daniel? First of all there is no point in feeling guilty and telling God again and again that we have sinned (Daniel 9:3-16). He can take care of that. Secondly we shouldn't grovel and cut ourselves down. Like Daniel we are "greatly beloved" (Daniel 9:23). And we are totally loved just as we are long before the Holy Spirit has changed us. Thirdly we should avoid setting time frames for God to do what we think needs doing right now.
What we can and must do is look to the Messiah King of our royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9). Every day He has tasks for us to do in our family, in our church, among our neighbors and in our nation. But the outcome of mysterious purposes in history is in His hands.
(See Advent Comings
of the Lord Among the Nations)