We explore the theme Exile and Return within The Book of Daniel. The events of Daniel unfold during the great Babylonian Exile when the Israelites were relocated to a foreign land. Looking through the historical context and the story of this famous character, we see the challenges of faithfulness during a particularly difficult phase of Israel’s history. We explore the relationship between Daniel and King Darius, the ruler of the Babylonians.
We’re going to continue with our Exile and Return series. We don’t have a lot of information about what happens during the exile, but we do have some. We’re going to talk about that today.
We’re going to talk about the handwriting on the wall, Daniel in the lion’s den, and spiritual warfare, three pretty familiar things. And, you know, I think it’s interesting to note that we don’t have that much information about Jesus as he’s growing up, Peter and John as they’re growing up, the exile everyday life.
What we have mostly in the Bible is information about what happened when something significant took place in terms of change. And, I think, if we think back in our lives, big changes are usually where big growth takes place, whether it’s just something like going from grade school to junior high, or getting married, having children, a tragedy, or an unexpected success. In every case, it really brings difficulty into our lives because we have to deal with this change.
And today we’re going to be seeing some of the things that took place during this exile period but, still significant in the life of these people.
Just give you the historical context here, in terms of timeline—and we are somewhere back here in 700 B.C. or so. We’ve got Hezekiah, and Isaiah prophesied during the time of Hezekiah.
We’re going to look at some of Isaiah today. And Isaiah, of course, talks about a lot of things, including the Messiah coming. But he also talks about this impending exile that’s coming and the return.
And, of course, they tend to mix all these different exiles and returns in. We’ve talked about this meta-narrative that there’s this exile and return big story, exiled from the Garden, returned back to the Garden, and then within that, a lot of exiles and returns, and we can even have it in our personal life as we stray away and come back in repentance.
And then we had 605 B.C. We had the first deportation to Babylon of Judah.
Back here in 722 B.C., we had the Assyrian captivity of the northern part of Israel, which becomes Samaria. And Judah is spared during the time of Hezekiah and his immediate successors.
And then in 605, you have the first Babylonian captivity, and Daniel likely is deported during that time; and he goes through a big change because all appearances are that he becomes a eunuch, which would be a real material change for a young man. The eunuchs ran the whole Persian Empire or these Eastern empires.
597, there’s another deportation, and in this one, Ezekiel goes in.
And then in 586, you get the destruction of Jerusalem, and Jeremiah is prominent during this, and he stays in Jerusalem during this time, although he’s kind of captured and taken to Egypt.
And this is when the temple is destroyed. All of the artifacts in the temple are taken to Babylon, and the walls are breached.
Then Jeremiah prophesied that this exile will take place for 70 years and then there’ll be a return. And this is in Jeremiah.
The Persians defeat the Babylonians
And then in 539, the Persians defeated the Babylonians.
So let’s look at that event, 539, the Persians defeating the Babylonians. Let’s go to Daniel 5.
Daniel has been a key figure in the administration. During the Babylonians, he was a big deal during the Babylonians; and he’s kind of been forgotten. We’ll see here.
Belshazzar the king made a great feast for a thousand of his lords, and drank wine in the presence of the thousand.
While he tasted the wine, Belshazzar gave the command to bring the gold and silver vessels which his father Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the temple which had been in Jerusalem
So he’s referring back to this episode in 586 where they destroyed the temple and took the artifacts; and now his grandson, here, is taking the artifacts, and now he’s going to bring them into his banquet.
—that the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines might drink from them.
Then they brought the gold vessels that had been taken from the temple of the house of God which had been in Jerusalem; and the king and his lords, his wives, and his concubines drank from them.
They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold and silver, bronze and iron, wood and stone.
In the same hour the fingers of a man’s hand appeared and wrote opposite the lampstand on the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace; and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote.
Then the king’s countenance changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his hips were loosened and his knees knocked against each other.
The king cried aloud to bring in the astrologers, the Chaldeans, and the soothsayers. The king spoke, saying to the wise men of Babylon, “Whoever reads this writing, and tells me its interpretation, shall be clothed with purple and have a chain of gold around his neck; and he shall be the third ruler in the kingdom.”
Now all the king’s wise men came, but they could not read the writing, or make known to the king its interpretation.
Then King Belshazzar was greatly troubled, his countenance was changed, and his lords were astonished.
The queen, because of the words of the king and his lords, came to the banquet hall. Apparently, she wasn’t invited. And it might be that this is his grandmother.
The queen spoke, saying, “O king, live forever! Do not let your thoughts trouble you, nor let your countenance change.
There is a man in your kingdom in whom is the Spirit of the Holy God. And in the days of your father, light and understanding and wisdom, like the wisdom of the gods, were found in him; and King Nebuchadnezzar your father—your father the king—made him chief of the magicians, astrologers, Chaldeans, and soothsayers.
Inasmuch as an excellent spirit, knowledge, understanding, interpreting dreams, solving riddles, and explaining enigmas were found in this Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar, now let Daniel be called, and he will give the interpretation.”
Then Daniel was brought in before the king—
Now he’s probably eighty years old or something like that at this point in time.
Now let me just give you a little bit of things we know from history that’s happening during this episode.
They’re having this big banquet, and we know from Herodotus what was what was taking place while they’re having this banquet in 539 is their city is surrounded by the Persians. And the city of Babylon had the river Euphrates actually routed through the city so they couldn’t be besieged and starved out for water.
So the arrogance here is pretty enormous, that they’re having this big banquet while they’re being surrounded.
Verse 13. Then Daniel was brought in before the king. The king spoke, and said to Daniel, “Are you that Daniel who is one of the captives from Judah, whom my father the king brought from Judah?
I have heard of you, that the Spirit of God is in you, and that light and understanding and excellent wisdom are found in you.
Now the wise men, the astrologers, have been brought in before me, that they should read this writing and make known to me its interpretation, but they could not give the interpretation of the thing.
And I have heard of you, that you can give interpretations and explain enigmas. Now if you can read the writing and make known to me its interpretation, you shall be clothed with purple and have a chain of gold around your neck, and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom.”
Now if you knew what Daniel knows, what the interpretation is, this response makes a lot of sense, what he says here:
Then Daniel answered, and said before the king, “Let your gifts be for yourself, and give your rewards to another; yet I will read the writing to the king, and make known to him the interpretation.
O king, the Most High God gave Nebuchadnezzar (his father or grandfather) your father a kingdom and majesty, glory and honor.
And because of the majesty that He gave him, all peoples, nations, and languages trembled and feared before him. Whomever he wished, he executed; whomever he wished, he kept alive; the power of life and death was in the hands of Nebuchadnezzar. You can’t get much more powerful than that. And this is all nations he says. —whomever he wished, he set up; and whomever he wished, he put down. He was all-powerful.
But when his heart was lifted up, and his spirit was hardened in pride, he was deposed from his kingly throne, and they took his glory from him.
Then he was driven from the sons of men, his heart was made like the beasts—This happened for seven years. Nebuchadnezzar lost his mind, and his hair was like eagles’ feathers, and he ate grass like an ox. He was out of his mind for seven years. —and his dwelling was with the wild donkeys. They fed him with grass like oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, till he knew that the Most High God rules in the kingdom of men, and appoints over it whomever He chooses.
So Nebuchadnezzar got to say life, death, up, down; and he realized, oop, I’m under the command of someone else who can, even more so, say live and die, up and down, to me.
And, of course, Nebuchadnezzar has in the book of Daniel here one of the greatest professions of trust and faith in God you’ll read in the Bible. He basically says, “I was proud. I blew it, and now I honor God because God is the real God.”
“But you his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, although you knew all this.
Remember back to Ezekiel when we saw that passage; I believe it’s chapter 18. He says stop using this proverb that the fathers eat sour grapes and the children pucker. Stop saying that. Because everybody is responsible for their own actions. That’s the way this works.
He says you saw. You saw your father. You saw his experience, and you didn’t learn from it.
Verse 23. And you have lifted yourself up against the Lord of heaven. They have brought the vessels of His house before you, and you and your lords, your wives and your concubines, have drunk wine from them. And you have praised the gods of silver and gold, bronze and iron, wood and stone, which do not see or hear or know; and the God who holds your breath in His hand and owns all your ways, you have not glorified like your father did.
Then the fingers of the hand were sent from Him, and this writing was written.
“And this is the inscription that was written:
MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN.
This is the interpretation of each word. MENE: God has numbered your kingdom, and finished it;
TEKEL: You have been weighed in the balances, and found wanting;
PERES: Your kingdom has been divided, and given to the Medes and Persians,” who are outside the walls surrounding the city right now.
Then Belshazzar gave the command, and they clothed Daniel with purple and put a chain of gold around his neck, and made a proclamation concerning him that he should be the third ruler in the kingdom.
That very night Belshazzar, king of the Chaldeans, was slain.
And Darius the Mede received the kingdom, being about sixty-two years old.
What the Persians did is they diverted the river Euphrates out into a marsh, and the level of the river went down enough for the soldiers to wade through it under the wall. And they came up into Babylon at night, and they apparently knew this feast was some kind of a ritual they had. They knew it was going on. They came up and took the city, basically without a fight. Belshazzar was killed that very night.
This is fairly stark. You go from a kingdom and in a short period of time, you go from a kingdom, 586, that is ruler over all the earth that has a king that says live and die, up and down, whatever happens he goes; and a few short years later, it’s overthrown completely.
And God says it’s because of pride. You thought way too much of yourself, so I just toppled it over.
Daniel stays faithful
If you’re Daniel, and you’re 80 years old, and you’ve come out as a youth, and you’ve been made a eunuch, that’s certainly a change of life that probably was very difficult.
As you know Daniel took it in stride and said I trust God even to the point of separating himself with food and saying I don’t want to eat the Chaldean food.
Then you go through the Babylonian University, a three-year intensive program where you learn the Chaldean language and literature, which means you’re going to be completely indoctrinated with the Chaldean worldview. And you get to your final exam, and you and your friends are 10 times better than everybody else. An oral exam before the king, who can say, “I don’t like you. Go chop his head off.” A little pressure there.
They’re ten times better. And yet they came through that Chaldean university ten times more proficient in the Chaldean literature and language than all the other guys, but never believed any of it. They didn’t change their worldview. Their commitment to God was unchanged.
And then you go through this time period where you’re interpreting dreams for Nebuchadnezzar, and you’re made this real high person. And then you’re forgotten.
That’s a lot of change to go through in Daniel’s life. And as far as we know, he never wavers.
We read that passage in Ezekiel where God says, you know, even if these three guys—Noah, Job, and Daniel—were in the country right now, I wouldn’t save the country. Even if those three guys were here. That’s meaning—usually, in God’s mercy, three people would be enough to save a country, three righteous people. That’s very encouraging. But he says—he takes these three people out and lifts them up says these are examples of what righteousness looks like.
And we don’t see anything in the book of Daniel or in the scripture about Daniel actually doing anything wrong, although he certainly didn’t live a sinless life.
Daniel under Darius
Daniel now is elevated, and Darius the Mede apparently comes in and kills Belshazzar and keeps Daniel.
Because the next thing that happens is in chapter 6. It pleased Darius to set over the kingdom one hundred and twenty satraps—and these are probably all eunuchs. We read Alexander the Great. One of his great frustrations was he tried to get the Persian Empire to be like the Greeks, and he couldn’t he couldn’t do anything because the eunuchs controlled everything, and they had this big bureaucracy, and he couldn’t break it. So he had to just compromise with it.
So this is normal for the Persians. He set over the kingdom one hundred and twenty satraps, to be over the whole kingdom; and over these, three governors, so you got 40 each. —of whom Daniel was one, that the satraps might give account to them, so that the king would suffer no loss.
Now, are eunuchs warriors? No. No, eunuchs are not warriors. And what kind of account would eunuchs give to the king so they won’t suffer loss? What’s the number one thing kings want, always. Taxes! The number one thing kings want.
And how much taxes do they want? More! Always they want more. That’s right. Never enough. Insatiable appetite, right?
So you have to have tax collectors. And what do tax collectors historically do? Skim it off. Yeah, they’re a skimming operation.
These three governors are there so the king might not suffer loss, which means their job is, what? Yeah, to make sure the skim doesn’t happen. And what do you think they would normally do in an empire like the Persians? Take their fair share!
Darius is tricked by flatterers
Verse 3. Then this Daniel distinguished himself above the governors and satraps, because an excellent spirit was in him—
He is showing that his forty guys can collect a lot of revenue without siphoning it off. What are the other two governors and the other eighty people going to think about that? Yeah, what do people think when their salary is slashed? They don’t like it very much, do they?
Okay. —and the king gave thought to setting him over the whole realm—which means the skimming exercise is about to be shut down completely. Because in government, the one thing that you don’t want, if you’re a governor, is an honest person who tells the truth and brings things to light. That runs the whole system! You’ve got to impeach that guy! You’ve got to get him out of there! If he didn’t do anything wrong, then you’ve got to make something up.
I’ve got a friend that that’s happening to in Texas right now. They’re making stuff up because he’s trying to say, “Hey, I know something wrong.”
“We’ve got to shut you up.”
We can’t have people like that in government that’s pretty typical in this arena.
So the governors and satraps sought to find some charge against Daniel concerning the kingdom; but they could find no charge or fault, because he was faithful; nor was there any error or fault found in him.
Then these men said, “We shall not find any charge against this Daniel unless we find it against him concerning the law of his God.”
So these governors and satraps thronged before the king, and said thus to him: “King Darius, live forever!
All the governors of the kingdom, the administrators and satraps, the counselors and advisors, have consulted together to establish a royal statute and to make a firm decree that whoever petitions any god or man for thirty days, except you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions.
“You’re so wonderful!” And this is how it works.
I’ve been to dinners and events and meetings with powerful people, and the amount of oozing sycophant grossness is just appalling to me, that all these people—they’re just men. They’re just women. They’re just regular people that have been given an office of service. And everybody’s just scraping and groveling to them. Why are they doing that? They want something.
And, so, these guys are, “You’re so wonderful. You’re so amazing. We want to do this great, grand thing for you, that you will be lifted up and exalted because no one can petition anyone other than you.”
Now, O king, establish the decree and sign the writing, so that it cannot be changed, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which does not alter.”
This was one of the laws the Persians have. The king could make whatever law they wanted to, but they couldn’t change it. And this is pretty good idea if you’re going to give somebody absolute power. You need them to not be capricious with it, right?
Therefore King Darius signed the written decree.
“Well, thank you so much. Thank you. Thank you. Ah, it’s so great to have people like you, the little people that understand how great I am.”
Now when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went home. And in his upper room, with his windows open toward Jerusalem, he knelt down on his knees three times that day, and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as was his custom since early days.
He’s not doing this to—this is nothing new. And they knew this was going to happen. They’re depending on the honesty and the integrity of Daniel to trap him.
I have another friend who’s involved in a kangaroo court-type situation, and he was charged for something. And we have a body called the Ethics Commission in Texas, ironically named.
And they brought him up, and they said, “We don’t have any evidence. We want you to testify.”
He said, “I’m not going to testify.”
And they said—they were all flummoxed. “What do you mean you won’t testify? We’re counting on your integrity to find some reason to fine you.”
And he said, “I’m not going to testify. But we have witnesses. We want to put on our witnesses.”
“No, no. We can’t do that. We’re going to recess the hearing. We’ve got to go find some things wrong about you.”
It’s human nature we’re talking about here.
Then these men assembled and found Daniel praying and making supplication before his God.
And they went before the king, and spoke concerning the king’s decree: “Have you not signed a decree that every man who petitions any god or man within thirty days, except you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions?”
“See! It’s your law!”
The king answered and said, “The thing is true, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which does not alter.”
So they answered and said before the king, “That Daniel, the one who’s given you all the extra tax revenue, who is one of the captives from Judah, does not show due regard for you, O king, or for the decree that you have signed, but makes his petition three times a day.”
And the king, when he heard these words, was greatly displeased with himself, why? He knows these guys. He knows their heart. He’s like, “Oh, gah, they got me!” and set his heart on Daniel to deliver him; and he labored till the going down of the sun to deliver him.
He got all his lawyers in. “Find a loophole!” He got all of his counselors in. “We’ve got to get Daniel off of this!”
Then these men approached the king, and said to the king, “Know, O king, that it is the law of the Medes and Persians—It’s the law! You have to follow the law, king.
We’ve gone from, “You’re so wonderful! You’re so amazing! We want to—” to “You’ve got to follow the law, king!”
Man, Darius is so ticked at himself. At himself! Because he let himself get sucked into this with flattery.
And it’s likely, according to reading I’ve done, that this was a sub-king, that this was a king of a realm, and there was a greater king elsewhere, Cyrus. Maybe not. But that seems to be the case.
So perhaps there’s some authority that can actually enforce this law.