O.T. Handout #45: Daniel, courtier, Hagiographa. Nobleman, Nebuchadnezzar, mene, mene, tekel, upharsin, Darius, Shadrach, etc.: Esther, Mordechai, Ahasuerus, Persia. December 2014
Daniel (Heb. God is my judge) ( דָּנִיֵּאל) was an interpreter of dreams, a visionary during the Babylonian exile around 597 b.c. during the reign Jehoiakim of Judah (606 b.c.) Ezekiel mentioned three Biblical figures in a row as men of righteousness: Noah, Daniel and Job. (Ezek 14:14, 20). He was the companion of kings.
The Book of Daniel is in the third division of the Hebrew Bible, the Hagiographa. Contains 12 chapters. One of several children taken into Babylonian captivity where they were educated in Chaldean thought. However, he never converted to Neo-Babylonian ways. Through instruction from “the God of Heaven” (Dan.2:18), he interpreted dreams and visions of kings, thus becoming a prominent figure in the court of Babylon. He also had apocalyptic visions concerning the Four monarchies.
Daniel was a member of the late 7th c. b.c. aristocracy of Judah. A nobleman, when Nebuchadnezzar besieged Jerusalem he looted the king’s palace and temple and took all the princes, the mighty, the captives, craftsmen and smiths into captivity, leaving only the poorest to survive on their own. It was the practice to train all eligible men for courtiers to serve in the king’s palace. Daniel was one of those chosen.
The first chapters of the book describe how King Nebuchadnezzar erects an enormous golden statue, and orders, “Whoever will not fall down and worship shall at once be thrown into a burning fiery furnace” (3:6). Daniel and his friends were observant followers of the Torah, and refuse to bow down to the statue. Certain Babylonians are jealous of the king’s Israelite advisors because of their high standing in the king’s court, and tell him that “there are certain Jews, whom you appointed to administer the province of Babylon, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego; these men pay no heed to you, O king” (3:12).
Infuriated, Nebuchanezzar orders the three men to be thrown into the fiery furnace. Miraculously, they remain in the furnace unharmed, while the three men who carried the men to it are killed when a “tongue of flame” leaps out at them. Nebuchadnezzar has them released from the furnace and blesses their God who sent an angel to save them. He commands that anyone who curses Israel’s God “shall be torn limb from limb, and his house confiscated” (3:29) In the narrative of Daniel (Ch 2), it was the second year of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar and the king was distressed by his
dreams, so he summoned his interpreters. They were unable to relay or interpret the dreams. The king demanded the execution of all the wise men in Babylon. When Daniel learned of the king’s order, he asked the captain of the guard, Arioch, to let him see the king. Daniel prayed for God’s mercy to receive a revelation from the king’s dream.
Daniel 3:19–23. The Casting of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego into the Furnace:
To heat the furnace “seven times more than it was wont to be” (Daniel 3:19) is presumed to be an idiomatic way of saying that the furnace was to be heated much hotter than usual—to be heated as hot as it could be heated . “If the three were brought up to the furnace, it must have had a mouth above, through which the victims could be cast into it. When heated to an ordinary degree, this could be done without danger to the men who performed this service; but in the present case the heat of the fire was so great, that the servants themselves perished by it.” The king apparently viewed the events in the furnace through an opening at the bottom.
Nebuchadnezzar recounted his dream of a huge tree that was suddenly cut down at the command of a heavenly messenger. Daniel was summoned and interpreted the dream. The tree was Nebuchadnezzar himself, who for seven years, lost his mind and became like a wild beast. All of this came to pass until, at the end of the specified time, Nebuchadnezzar acknowledged that “the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men” (Dan 4:25) and his sanity and kingdom were restored to him.
God then revealed the mystery to Daniel in a vision that same night. Daniel praised God with a doxology (a song of praise to God) Daniel was granted access to the king and relayed the description of the dream, followed by its interpretation (v.37-45). With Daniel’s successful interpretation of the dream, the king expressed homage, followed by his own doxology that
affirmed that Daniel’s God is God of gods for revealing this mystery of his dream. Daniel was then promoted to chief governor over the whole province of Babylon. At Daniel’s request, his companions were also promoted, so that they remained at the king’s court.
Daniel was given a Babylonian name: Belteshazzar – prince of the king. His friends were given the names Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. They were educated in Aramaic, scientific and diplomatic skills. Daniel refused the King’s food and wine, but chose a vegetarian diet. He was faithful to his people and the Hebrew teachings.
Chapter 5 relates the story of King Belshazzar, son of Nebuchadnezzar, and a banquet he threw for hundreds of Babylonian nobles. After a full night of drinking, the intoxicated king decides to drink wine from the treasures his father had taken from Solomon’s Temple. At this moment, a man’s finger appears and writes words on the wall of the banquet hall. Belshazzar watches in horror, and he summons men of his palace to decipher the message with a promise that they would become a high government official. No one can interpret the message, so the king commands Daniel to read the handwriting on the wall because of his reputation as an interpreter of dreams. According to the book, “And this is the writing that was written, MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN” (5:25). Daniel then interprets the meaning of the words to the king. ” MENE; God hath numbered thy kingdom, and finished it. TEKEL; Thou art weighed in the balances, and art found wanting. PERES; Thy kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians” (5:26-28). That evening, Belshazzar was killed, and Darius the Mede (possibly Cyrus, King of Persia) became king of Bablyon.
Following the ascension of Darius, Daniel is quickly appointed to a high office in the new government. In a strange twist of Persian law, the king is unable to reverse a law once he himself has signed it, and Daniel’s rivals use this against him. They get Darius to sign a law that states, “whoever shall address a petition to any god or man, beside you, O king, during the next thirty days, shall be thrown into a lions’ den” (6:8). These men knew that Daniel, as a pious Judean, prayed to God three times a day facing Jerusalem. They immediately go to Darius, and tell him of Daniel’s constant violation of the new ban.
Although Darius loves and respects Daniel, he cannot overturn the law, and throws him into the lions’ den. Daniel spends the night with the lions, while Darius, nervous and sleepless, fasts until dawn. He returns to the lions’ den to find Daniel unharmed, who responds that God sent him an angel “who shut the mouths of the lions so that they did not injure me” (6:23). Darius orders Daniel’s enemies to be thrown into the den, and the hungry lions immediately consume them. (From Jewish Virtual Library)
Why Did Daniel Pray Three Times a Day toward Jerusalem? Solomon, in his dedicatory prayer of the temple in Jerusalem, referred to the people’s praying “toward the city which thou hast chosen, and toward the house that I have built for thy name” (1 Kings 8:44). The Prophet Joseph Smith once counseled the Twelve Apostles to “make yourselves acquainted with those men who like Daniel pray three times a day toward the House of the Lord” (History of the Church, 3:391). And President Wilford Woodruff, in the dedicatory prayer on the Salt Lake Temple, said: “Heavenly Father, when thy people shall not have the opportunity of entering this holy house to offer their supplications unto thee, and they are oppressed and in trouble, surrounded by difficulties or assailed by temptation, and shall turn their faces towards this thy holy house and ask thee for deliverance, for help, for thy power to be extended in their behalf, we beseech thee to look down from thy holy habitation in mercy and tender compassion upon them, and listen to their cries.” (In James E. Talmage, The House of the Lord, p. 142; emphasis added.)
This is not to suggest that the direction in which one faces when one prays has mystical significance, but, rather, that it is an attitude of spiritual “facing.” To face the temple, which is the temporal representation of the House of God, suggests that one turns one’s heart to the Lord and the covenants made in the temples to be more like Him. President Woodruff clarified this point in what he said next: “Or when the children of thy people, in years to come, shall be separated, through any cause, from this place, and their hearts shall turn in remembrance of thy promises to this holy Temple, and they shall cry unto thee from the depths of their affliction and sorrow to extend relief and deliverance to them, we humbly entreat thee to turn thine ear in mercy to them; hearken to their cries, and grant unto them the blessings for which they ask.” (Talmage,House of the Lord, p. 142)
Daniel 6:24. Daniel’s Accusers Cast into the Lions’ Den
The term or ever, as used in Daniel 6:24, means “before.” Some have attacked the cruelty of condemning the women and children, too. To an absolute monarch, however, it probably seemed the logical thing to do, for out of these families might come insurrection in the future. The lesson must be severe enough to warn any others who might be jealous of the king’s favorite and most valuable servant. An absolute monarch would likely feel that any other course would slowly cause him to lose power.
Daniel 6:28. Daniel Prospered
He had served five kings: Nebuchadnezzar, Evil-merodach, Belshazzar, Darius, and Cyrus. Few courtiers have had so long a reign, served so many masters without flattering any, been more successful in their management of public affairs, been so useful to the states where they were in office, or have been more owned of God, or have left such an example to posterity.
Chapters 7-12 are mystical, apocalyptic visions that relate to the four powerful kingdoms that had persecuted the Jewish people: Babylonia, Media, Persia, and Greece. The book describes events that occurred to the period of Antiochus Epiphanes of Syria, so some scholars put the date of The Book of Daniel at or around 165 B.C.E., during the period of the Hasmonean revolt against the Hellenistic Greeks. We will include information of the latter chapters next handout.
The Book of Esther: Also known as The Scroll (Megillah) in the Writings of the Bible. Relates story of Jewish woman (Esther Rabbah) in Persia in 3rd year of reign of Ahasuerus (Xerxes) (486-465 b.c.) He ruled over 127 provinces. She becomes queen of Persia, thwarting a genocide of her people. The author of the story of Esther’s courageous work is unknown. In ten chapters it tells the origin of Purim and the blueprint for its celebration. Purim is celebrated by Jews each year in memory of their being saved from extermination. The story is the core of the festival of Purim.
Celebrated on the 14th day of Adar (Hebrew name for March). Purim means “lots” and refers to the lottery than Haman used to choose the date for the massacre. It is accompanied by a 3 days fast in commemoration of Esther’s fast.
Ahasuerus, ruler of a massive Persian empire, holds a lavish party, initially for his court and dignitaries and afterwards for all inhabitants of the capital city Shushan. Ahasuerus orders the queen Vashti to display her beauty before the guests. She refuses. Worried all women will learn from this, Ahasuerus removes her as queen and has a royal decree sent across the empire that men should be the ruler of their households and should speak their own native tongue. Ahasuerus then orders all beautiful young girls to be presented to him, so he can choose a new queen to replace Vashti.
One of these is the orphan Esther, whose Hebrew name is Hadassah. After the death of her parents, she is being fostered by her cousin Mordecai. She finds favor in the king’s eyes, and is made his new queen. Esther does not reveal that she is Jewish. Shortly afterwards, Mordecai discovers a plot by courtiers Bigthan and Teresh to assassinate Ahasuerus. The conspirators are apprehended and hanged, and Mordecai’s service to the king is recorded.
Ahasuerus appoints Haman as his prime minister. Mordecai, who sits at the palace gates, falls into Haman’s disfavor as he refuses to bow down to him. Having found out that Mordecai is Jewish, Haman plans to kill not just Mordecai but all the Jews in the empire. He obtains Ahasuerus’ permission to execute this plan, against payment of ten thousand talents of silver (which the King declines to accept and rather allows him to execute his plan on principle), and he casts lots to choose the date on which to do this—the thirteenth of the month of Adar. On that day, everyone in the empire is free to massacre the Jews and despoil their property.
When Mordecai finds out about the plans he and all Jews mourn and fast. Mordecai informs Esther what has happened and tells her to intercede with the King. She is afraid to break the law and go to the King unsummoned. This action would incur the death penalty. Mordecai tells her that she must. She orders Mordecai to have all Jews fast for three days together with her, and on the third day she goes to Ahasuerus, who stretches out his sceptre to her which shows that she is not to be punished. She invites him to a feast in the company of Haman. During the feast, she asks them to attend a further feast the next evening. Meanwhile, Haman is again offended by Mordecai and consults with his friends. At his wife’s suggestion, he builds a gallows for Mordecai.
That night, Ahasuerus suffers from insomnia, and when the court records are read to him to help him sleep, he learns of the services rendered by Mordecai in the previous plot against his life. Ahasuerus is told that Mordecai has not received any recognition for saving the king’s life. Just then, Haman appears, to ask the King to hang Mordecai, but before he can make this request, King Ahasuerus asks Haman what should be done for the man that the king wishes to honor. Thinking that the man that the king is referring to is himself, Haman says that the man should be dressed in the king’s royal robes and led around on the king’s royal horse, while a herald calls: “See how the king honors a man he wishes to reward!” To his horror and surprise, the king instructs Haman to do so to Mordecai. After leading Mordecai’s parade, he returns in mourning to his wife and friends, who suggest his downfall has begun.
Immediately after, Ahasuerus and Haman attend Esther’s second banquet, at which she reveals that she is Jewish and that Haman is planning to exterminate her people, including her. Overcome by rage, Ahasuerus leaves the room; meanwhile Haman stays behind and begs Esther for his life, falling upon her in desperation. The king comes back in at this moment and thinks Haman is assaulting the queen; this makes him angrier than before and he orders Haman hanged on the gallows that Haman had prepared for Mordecai.
The previous decree against the Jews cannot be annulled, but the king allows the Jews to defend themselves during attacks. As a result, on 13 Adar, 500 attackers and Haman’s ten sons are killed in Shushan, followed by a Jewish slaughter of 75,000 Persians, although they took no plunder. Esther sends a letter instituting an annual commemoration of the Jewish people’s redemption, in a holiday called Purim (lots). Ahasuerus remains very powerful and continues reigning, with Mordecai assuming a prominent position in his court.
The primary commandment related to Purim is to hear the reading of the book of Esther. The book of Esther is commonly known as the Megillah (scroll). Although there are five books of Jewish scripture that are properly referred to as megillahs (Esther, Ruth, Ecclesiastes, Song of Songs, and Lamentations), this is the one people usually mean when the speak of The Megillah. It is customary to boo, hiss, stamp feet and rattle noisemakers whenever the name of Haman is mentioned in the service. The purpose of this custom is to “blot out the name of Haman.”
In addition, we are commanded to send out gifts of food or drink, and to make gifts to charity. The sending of gifts of food and drink is referred to as shalach manos (lit. sending out portions). Among Ashkenazic Jews, a common treat at this time of year is hamentaschen (lit. Haman’s pockets). These triangular fruit-filled cookies are supposed to represent Haman’s three-cornered hat. It is customary to hold carnival-like celebrations on Purim, to perform plays and parodies, and to hold beauty contests. I have heard that the usual prohibitions against cross-dressing are lifted during this holiday, but I am not certain about that. Americans sometimes refer to Purim as the Jewish Mardi Gras. Work is permitted as usual on Purim, unless of course it falls on a Saturday ( Jewish Shabbat).