Darius the Mede

Then [Darius the Mede] commanded, and they brought Daniel, and cast him into the den of lions.
Now the king spake and said unto Daniel, “Thy God whom thou servest continually, he will deliver thee” (Daniel 6:16).

The story in Daniel 6:1-28 is best known as “Daniel and the Lion’s Den.” It could just as easily be called “Darius the Mede and Court Treachery.”

Only in Daniel do we meet Darius the Mede. He features prominently in the final narrative recorded for us in Daniel’s life in Daniel 5:31-6:28; in his first year Daniel perceived the end of the seventy years spoken of by Jeremiah and he also speaks to him words of comfort and protection about the future (Daniel 9:1, 11:1).

Darius the Mede proves to be a source of frustration and vexation for those who correlate the narrative of Daniel with other historical accounts. The author of Daniel presumes Darius the Mede to be a king with authority not only over Babylon but also over other parts of the Empire, and fixes his reign at the point of transition from the Neo-Babylonian Empire to the Achaemenid Persian Empire (ca. 539 BCE; Daniel 5:31-6:5). And yet we have no other sources who attest to such a character. According to other Near Eastern and Greek sources, Nabonidus is the final ruler of Babylon, and he is defeated by Cyrus the Persian, who himself had previously overthrown the Median authority over modern-day Iran. One might imagine that the author of Daniel refers to the Achaemenid emperor Darius I Hystaspes, but he was but an adolescent when these events took place, was Persian and not a Mede, as recognized by other Biblical authors, and only began ruling in 522 BCE (cf. Ezra 6:1-15, Nehemiah 12:22). Some suggest Darius is another name for Astyages the last Median king or perhaps one of his sons, but evidence is lacking. Some would understand Daniel 6:28 to read “Darius, even Cyrus the Persian,” and identify Darius as Cyrus, but we are given no reason why there would be such confusion, and why would the author of Daniel consider him a Mede and a Persian at the same time? Association between Darius the Mede and Ugbaru, Gobyras in Greek, the man made governor of Babylon by Cyrus, may be more compelling. It also remains possible that Darius the Mede existed as a deputy king with great authority for a time who served at Cyrus’ pleasure and is otherwise unknown to history.

But we should not allow the vexation we feel at making sense of Darius the Mede to cause us to miss his compelling story in Daniel 5:31-6:28. The author of Daniel does not share our concerns; the story of Darius the Mede is important for Israel and indeed the people of God in exile.

Darius may be a Mede, a pagan ruler, but he is portrayed sympathetically and as one with great sympathy for Daniel. He stands in strong contrast to the Chaldean kings of Babylon before him: Darius proved humble and held Daniel and his God in great esteem, whereas Nebuchadnezzar had to learn reverence through humiliation (Daniel 2:1-4:37, 6:16); Darius fasted, declined entertainment, and lost sleep over Daniel, while Belshazzar had feasted with the vessels of YHWH’s house (Daniel 5:1-30, 6:18).

Darius the Mede maintained great confidence in Daniel and Daniel’s God: he wanted to rescue Daniel, he trusted that Daniel’s God would rescue him, expressed lamentation, came to the den early in the morning to see if Daniel had survived, took pleasure in Daniel’s vindication, punished Daniel’s enemies, and decreed that all of the Empire should honor and revere the God of Daniel (Daniel 6:14-27). Of all the pagan rulers over Israelites Darius the Mede is portrayed the most sympathetically and as a man of character and virtue. Israel was not going to do much better than Darius the Mede.

But we should not allow this rosy picture distract us from what had transpired: this very Darius the Mede, the one who seemed to love Daniel and was in great distress over him, is the one who signed Daniel’s death warrant. Darius the Mede fixed his seal on the lion’s den (Daniel 6:17). Daniel is brought closest to death by the king who was otherwise the most sympathetically inclined toward him. How could this be?

Daniel was a good man, and thus he made enemies (Daniel 6:3-4). Those who envied his position and power could find nothing against him except on account of the law of his God (Daniel 6:5); they conspired against him and persuaded Darius to make a decree to make it illegal to make a petition to any god or man save himself for thirty days on pains of death by lions (Daniel 6:6-8). Daniel prayed to God anyway as was his custom (Daniel 6:10); the accusation was brought before Darius (Daniel 6:11-13).

We are told that Darius the Mede really wanted to find a way to rescue Daniel (Daniel 6:12), and we have no reason to disbelieve it. But is he not the king? Why could he not have rescued Daniel?

Yes, Darius the Mede could have decided to exempt Daniel from the decree or find some way to invalidate the decree. But decrees were part of the “laws of the Medes and Persians” which could not be broken. If the pretense of inviolability were broken for Daniel’s sake, the entire edifice of authority might collapse.

And so Darius felt as if he had no real choice. Daniel could find no rescue from the laws of the Medes and Persians; he would have to be rescued by his God. Darius no doubt mourned and was in distress over Daniel, but how much of that distress stemmed from guilt? He was the one who had made the decree; he was the one who sentenced Daniel to death. Ultimately, he was alright with that, for the calculation had been made. No exemplary and godly man was worth calling into question the entire edifice of authority. If Daniel were to die it would be tragic; Darius would be devastated; but Darius would remain king, and another would take Daniel’s place, and the Empire could go on as usual.

The author of Daniel wanted the lesson of Darius the Mede to be deeply imprinted in the mind of Israel in exile. As faithful servants of YHWH the Israelites would always be a strange and peculiar people; there would always be opportunity to accuse them based on the law of their God. Even if their pagan ruler were personally a man of character and integrity, and even sympathetic toward them and their plight, if the decision came down to sparing the people of God or maintaining a hold on power and authority, the pagan ruler would always choose the latter. Even in the best of times Israel was only one crisis or one enterprising politician away from getting thrown under the bus; a ruler of integrity might lose a night’s sleep over the death of a man of God, but there was no guarantee that he would lose many more. And if this were true about a sympathetic ruler, what about an indifferent ruler who loved money, like Ahasuerus/Xerxes, who was induced to sentence Israel to extermination by Haman the Agagite (Esther 3:1-15)? And what about an actively hostile and persecuting ruler who could not tolerate Israel’s peculiar identity, like Antiochus IV Epiphanes, one of the greatest existential threats to the nation of Israel in its history?

Christians are well aware of a later pagan ruler over the people of God who decided to sacrifice a righteous man in order to maintain hold of power; such is what Pilate did to Jesus (John 18:28-19:15). The lesson for the people of God in the past remains effective for the people of God today. Christians look to the rulers of this world for rescue in vain, for whenever commitment to the people of God would conflict with the maintenance and expansion of power, power will win, and the people of God will continue to be thrown under the bus. How many times have people of character and integrity been given rule over nations? And yet how many times have they disappointed the aspirations of the people of God? This trend will continue, as it must, until the Lord returns. And if this is true for rulers who might be sympathetic to the people of God, what if they prove indifferent or even hostile to the faith? Peter’s exhortations in 1 Peter 1:3-4:19 prove as relevant as ever.

Darius the Mede is the embodiment of the object lesson of Psalm 146:3: do not put your trust in princes. Darius the Mede was more right than he could have known: there would be no deliverance from the state, for deliverance will only come from God. We do well to have a faith like Daniel’s and trust in God for our vindication in Christ and obtain the resurrection of life!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Confession

But [Jesus] held his peace, and answered nothing. Again the high priest asked him, and saith unto him, “Art thou the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?”
And Jesus said, “I am: and ye shall see the Son of man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming with the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:61-62).

It was one of the only things He said, but it was all they needed.

It was really a show trial; the final decision had already been reached, and it was only a matter of formality when it came to how to get there. The Jewish religious authorities had conspired to have Jesus arrested and fully intended to hand Him over to the Roman authorities for execution (cf. Mark 14:1-2). The trial was not going well; the testimony of the witnesses were not only false but did not even agree (Mark 14:55-59). Jesus had not answered His accusers, and the time came when the High Priest again asked Him whether He was the Christ, the Son of the Blessed (Mark 14:60-61). Jesus then gave His confession, and it was all they needed: He said He was, and that they would see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of power and coming with the clouds of heaven (Mark 14:62). All of a sudden they had everything they needed; the High Priest rent his clothes, indicating mourning and shame on account of the “blasphemy” just heard, and they all summarily condemned Jesus to death for what He had said (Mark 14:63-64). The next morning He was delivered over to Pilate; He was dead that evening (Mark 15:1-39).

Jesus was right, of course. On the third day God raised Him with power; forty days later Jesus ascended to the Father, exalted and given all authority, and as long as the religious authorities remained authorities they had to reckon with the sect of the Nazarene (cf. Mark 16:1-8, Acts 1:1-5:42). The religious authorities thought they were doing God’s will, and they were, but just not as they had thought or had expected (cf. Acts 2:23-24, 3:13-17); in attempting to eliminate Jesus’ threat to their existence, they unwittingly accomplished the very mechanism by which God would redeem mankind, rescue many from Israel, and ultimately to seal the condemnation of all they treasured in Jerusalem (Matthew 24:1-36, Romans 5:6-11).

Thus we understand that Jesus made His confession knowing quite well that it would be the basis of the charge of blasphemy and for His execution. And yet He says everything He says in that confession for good reason: it has been, in fact, one of the primary means by which He has attempted to make clear who He is and what He is doing throughout His ministry.

Jesus’ confession is saturated with prophetic references. And of all the various prophecies regarding the Christ, He focuses on Daniel’s vision in Daniel 7:13-14 in terms of Psalm 110:1: the “one like a son of man” receiving dominion, glory, and a kingdom from the Ancient of Days, thus sitting at the right hand of God, the right hand of power. Thus here, toward the end of His life, we are given the key to understanding what He has been saying throughout His life: His self-description as “Son of Man.”

Jesus also provides the key to understand what will happen: He will reign over His Kingdom (Colossians 1:13). His Kingdom will not be like any other in history: it has no capital, no defined physical boundaries, no army with physical weapons. It certainly was not about re-establishing the Davidic monarchy in Jerusalem and overthrowing the Romans as the Jews had fervently hoped! Instead, it is as Daniel saw in Daniel 7:27: the Kingdom of the Son of Man is an everlasting Kingdom, and all dominions will serve and obey Him.

So it is that Jesus confesses before Pilate the good confession that His kingdom is not of this world (John 18:36-37). Christ’s Kingdom is spiritual, able to encompass people of all nations (Galatians 3:28, Colossians 3:11). It has one ruler perpetually: Jesus of Nazareth, raised from the dead, ruling from heaven (Matthew 28:18, Hebrews 13:8). Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess His name, thus saying what He declared before the religious authorities whether they affirmed it in life or not (Philippians 2:9-11).

Throughout His life Jesus proclaimed the coming Kingdom of God (Matthew 4:17). He is its Ruler; we are His subjects. As Peter preached on the day of Pentecost, God has made Him both Lord and Christ (Acts 2:36); it is incumbent upon us to heed His word and do what He says (1 John 2:3-6). Will we affirm Jesus’ confession in our own lives, recognizing that He is the Christ, and sits at the right hand of Power, and then act like it? Or will our confession come too late and with great bitterness?

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Feast of Dedication

And it was the feast of the dedication at Jerusalem: it was winter; and Jesus was walking in the temple in Solomon’s porch (John 10:22-23).

Prophecy was being fulfilled, but no one was celebrating.

Daniel had spoken regarding a “king of the north” whose heart would be set against the holy covenant; he would defile the Temple and the fortress, setting up an abomination that makes desolate (Daniel 11:7-45). Around 375 years after Daniel spoke those words to Darius the Mede, Antiochus IV Epiphanes was king of Seleucid Empire. After a military campaign against the Ptolemies of Egypt, he entered Jerusalem and took all of the silver and gold from the Temple. Two years later, he declared that everyone in his empire must maintain the same Hellenistic customs. On the fifteenth day of the Jewish month of Chislev, which falls somewhere between mid-November and mid-December in our calendar, in 167 BCE, they installed a statue of the Olympian Zeus in the Holy of Holies of the Temple in Jerusalem; ten days later, they offered swine flesh upon the altar. Anyone who would continue to practice the Israelite religion and seek to abide by the Law of Moses would be condemned to death.

Such were trying times indeed. As is often the case, the majority just went along with the new rules: some Israelites were already turning into Hellenists, and the severe consequences for following the Law of Moses were enough to give most people pause. Considering the circumstances, it would not be difficult to imagine Israel going the way of every other nation: absorbed into greater Hellenism, setting aside whatever religious distinctives they might have maintained and becoming good pagans like the rest. This was exactly what Antiochus IV Epiphanes wanted, and he was willing to do whatever it took to get it done.

But not all Israelites just went along with it. The king’s officers began to attempt to enforce the edict outside of Jerusalem, and arrived in Modein, a small village about seventeen miles northwest of Jerusalem. A priest named Mattathias and his five sons had moved there from Jerusalem; when called upon to sacrifice to idols, he refused, and killed a Jew who offered sacrifice along with the king’s official. He and his sons fled the town and went into the wilderness; soon, many others who refused to go along with the king’s edict joined them. After Mattathias died in 166, his son Judah, called the Maccabee (“the Hammer”), took command. He began a war which we would today call an insurgency against Antiochus and the Seleucids. By effectively using guerrilla tactics and making wise strategic decisions, he and his small force defeated the Seleucids time and time again. For a time, the Seleucids retreated in order to obtain reinforcements. Judah and his associates took the opportunity to come to Jerusalem.

They found the Temple in disarray. The sanctuary was desolate; the altar was profaned; its gates were burned. Judah commanded men to cleanse the Temple and re-establish the proper altars and instruments. On the twenty-fifth day of Chislev in the year 164 BCE, exactly three years after the Seleucids had defiled the Temple, this small insurgent band of Jews offered sacrifice on the new burnt altar they had installed. The people then celebrated the re-dedication of that altar for eight days, akin to the time of re-dedication of the Temple in the days of Hezekiah (2 Chronicles 29:17).

The re-dedication of the Temple was an important moment, but the war was far from over. There would be many more battles, more than twenty more years of conflict with the Seleucids, and Judah himself would fall in battle. Ultimately, however, the insurgency led by the five sons of Mattathias would defeat the Seleucid Empire, one of the three great powers of the day; Judah’s brothers and their children after them would rule as priest-kings over an independent Israel for about one hundred years, the only independent Israelite state between the days of the kings of Israel and Judah and 1947 CE.

The Israelites would begin to celebrate the re-dedication of the Temple and the events surrounding it as the Festival of Lights, or the Feast of Dedication (in Hebrew, Hanukkah). The events we have described are narrated in 1 Maccabees, 2 Maccabees, and Josephus; the description of Hanukkah is found particularly in 1 Maccabees 4:36-58, 2 Maccabees 1:7-9, 10:1-9, and in Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews 12.7.6-7. A later tradition in the Talmud alleges that, during the re-dedication, there was only enough olive oil to light the lamp (Hebrew menorah) for one day, but it miraculously burned for eight days.

While the Feast of Dedication was not explicitly commanded by God and is not found in Scripture, nor could it be, since there was no prophet in the land at that time (cf. 1 Maccabees 4:46), the reasons for observing it are understandable. Judah and those around him ascribed all glory to God; they knew that their insurgency, on its own, had little hope. Daniel foresaw that not all would go along with the king of the north; a remnant would stand firm and take action, being refined and purified through their experience (Daniel 11:32-36). Judah and his people believed that the God of Israel was the One True God, and He loved His people Israel and would provide for them. It most certainly seemed as if He did; they wanted to celebrate the re-dedication of the Temple and to give honor to God in their newly independent country.

Yet not all was well; Mattathias and his sons were Levites, not of Judah or David. Maccabean priest-kings might have ruled in Jerusalem, but the people knew that God had promised a Messiah from the house of David. After 63 BCE, when the Romans took over from the Maccabean rulers, the Israelites hoped all the more diligently for that promised Messiah.

Almost two hundred years after the re-dedication of the Temple, near the very spot where these events took place, Jesus of Nazareth visited Jerusalem during the Feast of Dedication. He was walking in the same Temple, near the very spot where these events took place. Israelites came to Him, wanting to know if He really was the Christ, the Messiah (John 10:24). Will Jesus be for the Israelites of His day what Judah was for a previous generation? Would Jesus stand up against the oppressive pagan power and be the true fulfillment of Israelite expectation, re-establishing the Davidic monarchy from Jerusalem, ruling there forever?

Jesus would not satisfy the expectations of the Israelites, but He was the promised Messiah of Israel. He would not provide liberation from the Romans, but He would provide liberation from sin and death through His death and resurrection (Romans 5:6-11, 8:1-3). He did not re-dedicate the physical Temple in Jerusalem; in fact, He predicted its downfall (Matthew 24:1-36). He did, however, “re-dedicate” the Temple of His body in the resurrection (John 2:18-22). Jesus did not set up a throne in Jerusalem, ruling over the nations of the earth from there, but He did receive all authority in heaven and on earth, and beginning in Jerusalem His Lordship and Kingdom was proclaimed, and the message would spread to all nations throughout all time (Acts 1:8).

Hanukkah may not be one of the feasts mentioned in Leviticus, but it maintained great importance for the Israelites of Jesus’ day. Without the firm stand of the Maccabees, to whom would Jesus have been able to go two hundred years later? The Hanukkah story of oppression, liberation, and dedication to God connects to God’s whole story regarding Israel, and in so doing, connects to Jesus and the Gospel story as well. Let us praise God for the Christ and the Temple of His body, dedicated for all of us for all time!

Ethan R. Longhenry

The Son of Man

I saw in the night-visions, and, behold, there came with the clouds of heaven one like unto a son of man, and he came even to the ancient of days, and they brought him near before him. And there was given him dominion, and glory, and a kingdom, that all the peoples, nations, and languages should serve him: his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, and his kingdom that which shall not be destroyed (Daniel 7:13-14).

“Son of Man” is one of those phrases that everyone has read and regarding which most just keep on reading. We get the understanding as we read that Jesus speaks of Himself as the Son of Man (e.g. Matthew 16:13-16, 16:21, 17:22-23). It might strike us as odd for Him to do so; why all of these references to the “Son of Man” if He is indeed the Son of Man? Why describe Himself as such? What difference does it make?

“Son of man” is an interesting way of describing Jesus considering that it has a long history of being used to refer to all different types of people. “Son of man” is sometimes used in parallelism with “man” (e.g. Numbers 23:19, Job 16:21, 35:8, Psalm 8:4, 80:17, Isaiah 51:12, Jeremiah 49:18). It is almost exclusively the means by which God addresses the prophet Ezekiel (e.g. Ezekiel 2:1, 3). Daniel the prophet is also described as a “son of man” (Daniel 8:17).

The phrase may seem a bit odd to us, but it makes complete sense in Hebrew. A “son of man” is a human being. There are many times in Hebrew when a person or persons are spoken of as “sons of” someone or something. A wicked person is sometimes described as a “son of Belial” [e.g. Judges 19:22, often translated “base fellows” (ASV), “worthless fellows” (ESV)]. The Ammonites are almost always spoken of as the “sons of Ammon”; for that matter, the Israelites themselves are time and time again referred to as the “sons of Israel.” A “son of man,” then, is a human being.

So why the constant emphasis on this phrase, especially in the life of Jesus? How can Jesus refer to Himself as the Son of Man if Ezekiel and Daniel before Him were “sons of men”?

Jesus is reckoned as the Son of Man on account of the prophecy in Daniel 7:13-14, in which “one like a son of man” came before the Ancient of Days and received dominion, glory, and a kingdom. This “one like a son of man” seemed awfully like the same One who would be the rock destroying the kingdoms in Daniel 2:41-44, and consonant with the Branch from David described in Isaiah 9, 11, and in many other passages. Thus, this “one like a son of man” is the Messiah, the Christ, and it was so understood in Jesus’ day.

But why that description? Why does Jesus own it so? Perhaps part of the reason involves the language used. The “man” of “son of man” is frequently the Hebrew word ‘adam, which also refers to dirt or land in many contexts; it is also the name/description of the first man Adam. Thus, in a sense, the Son of Man is the Son of Adam, the Son of the ground. Perhaps God calls Ezekiel the “son of man” to remind him that he is but mortal and dust while God remains immortal and spirit. Yet Jesus is God in the flesh (John 1:1, 14, 18, Colossians 2:9, Hebrews 1:3). And that is precisely why He refers to Himself as the Son of Man so frequently!

It was as easy then as it is now to get so caught up with Jesus’ divinity and spiritual power that His humanity is forgotten. Daniel quite clearly sees one like a human being receiving dominion, glory, and a kingdom that does not end– it is not a disembodied spirit or some immanent entity beyond our comprehension, but Someone who experienced the same types of things we have experienced (cf. Daniel 7:13-14, Hebrews 4:15, 5:8). God the Son condescended to the point of taking on the form of dirt, being the Son of Man– the Creator taking on the form of His creation (John 1:3, Philippians 2:5-7). As “the” Son of Man, He was just like the other humans around Him– the humans for whom He lived and died to redeem.

Gnosticism– the overemphasis of the spiritual, theoretical, and the abstract so as to reject the physical, practical, and the concrete– has been a challenge in the church since the beginning. But the idea of Jesus as the “Son of Man” entirely does away with this. Flesh cannot be entirely bad; God the Son took on the form of flesh. The body is not necessarily the enemy; God took on a body in Christ, had it transformed for immortality in the resurrection, and in that form “like a son of man” received all power and authority (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:20-28, 42-57). We cannot just give up on the creation since God refused to do so and continues to refuse to do so (Romans 8:17-24, Hebrews 1:3).

Does it make a lot of sense to us that God would become man and live as man? No, of course not! Yet whereas every other religion exalts men to the position of God, it is only in Christ do we see God descending to become a Son of Man. It is a great mystery, but one for which we ought to be most thankful. Jesus reminds us through His words that He is not just the Son of God but also the Son of Man; let us praise Him for suffering with us and for us and redeeming us for the hope of the resurrection in Him!

Ethan R. Longhenry