CYRUS: THE RETURN AND THE FUTURE
The period described in the last section of the book of Daniel begins “in the third year of Cyrus king of Persia” (10:1), that is, 537 BC, and where was Daniel ? Why should that question be asked ? Because in the first year of Cyrus the Jews were given permission to return to Jerusalem, and the trickle home, which lasted a century or more, began. They had been in Babylon since taken there as prisoners in 605 BC and for many of them the hope of returning to their own land had not vanished. They had not become absorbed into Babylonian culture and religion despite all the pressure. We read in the book of Nehemiah (who lived almost a 100 years after Daniel) of 42,000 Messiahists who had made the long walk home to Israel. So, in the third year of Cyrus where was Daniel ? After bidding farewell to many fellow-believers the old man was still there in Babylon, in the Persian court. We know he was not indifferent to the land of his fathers: his shutters were open to Jerusalem as he prayed. Yet he remains in exile.
Presumably we would not have ended this book with Daniel in Babylon. If this had been some work of dramatic fiction then our ending would have been for Daniel to have returned as the grand old man of a newly built Jerusalem, taking the chief part in the dedication services of the temple. In fact the book of Daniel ends with the words “allotted inheritance” which promise something far more permanent and glorious than a piece of real estate at the eastern end of the Mediterranean.
Why did Daniel stay on in Babylon? We may only conclude that he knew this to be God’s will. There was yet more work for this old man to perform in his exile. All Christians have plans and dreams for the future, but most of all we want God’s will for the few years that lie ahead, and being certain that something is God’s will for us will save us from becoming bitter or plaintive: “Thy will be done.” A commitment to that principle is the secret of the rare jewel of Christian contentment.
Cyrus’s heart was in the Lord’s hands and he had made the king favourably disposed to the people of God, though they were facing many enemies, openly and secretly. Their foes were stirring up trouble in the Persian court, making false allegations about the Jews to Cyrus so that the city and the temple in Jerusalem might never be rebuilt. Daniel was kept in that court by God, with all the added authority that the prophet’s age, office and integrity could command. Daniel is there before the king to plead the cause of the people of God as they return to Jerusalem. He is also in Babylon, more importantly, to plead knowledgeably before the courts of heaven for his people. Daniel did as much for Israel staying in Babylon as the men with swords and trowels were doing rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem.
DANIEL’S VISION OF A MAN. Daniel Chapter 10
During that third year of Cyrus a revelation was given to Daniel (10:1), and its theme was of great conflict to come. It so overwhelmed Daniel that he mourned for three weeks. He is now in his late 80s approaching the end of his life, and this message that came to him of the future was not that he would enjoy an Indian summer, and a new dawn of peace, but the very reverse. The divine revelation spoke precisely of “a great war” (10:1). In May 1970 Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones was preaching at the graduation services of the students that had completed their years at the Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, and he preached to them a message on 1 Corinthians 15 on ‘Holding on to the Fundamentals of the Faith’ and to always contend for truth. The fundamentals mentioned in that chapter are that Christ died for our sins and that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures. In a poignant moment in that message he alluded to that necessity laid on him to go on and on fighting for the gospel and never to stop. He alluded to Matthew Arnold’s poem Sohrab and Rustum as mirroring his own experience, quoting these words, ‘And now in blood and battles was my youth and full of blood and battles is my age, And I shall never end this life of blood’. Daniel as a youth entered into conflict for the Messiah and now as an old man he is still battling on. That is the Christian pattern, the consequence of serving God in a world that is at enmity against him. Our pilgrimage goes from the hard to the difficult, and from the difficult to the impossible. It is a very sad Christian life if that is not the way it is with you. “If thou hast run with the footmen, and they have wearied thee, then how canst thou contend with horses? and if in the land of peace wherein thou trustedst, they wearied thee, then how wilt thou do in the swelling of Jordan ?” (Jer.12:5)
This divine revelation concerning a great war was given to Daniel, and the old man saw a bloodstained future for the people of God stretching out in the years to come. It is as if someone in Wales back in 1907, 90 years ago, could have seen a revelation of what was to characterise the world during the twentieth century. One can imagine that that Welshman too would have mourned and fasted for three weeks (10:2). We are told what Daniel did in addition to that, that he set his mind to gain understanding and to humble himself before his God (10:12). He refused to panic: he used his intelligence and thought about things. He sought to gain understanding. When a man becomes a Christian he begins to use his mind as he has never used it before. Daniel would know that the Lord has never promised us anything less than trials. The table he spreads for us is in the presence of our enemies (Ps. 23). Did Christ not speak of tribulation ? Were we not told that if any man followed the Lord Jesus he must bear his cross? Did the Messiah not say words to the effect that if the world hated him then the more like him his followers lived they would be hated too.
Daniel does not cry out, “Not fair ! No Lord !” He humbles himself before God, and he is in a heavy spirit of mourning for three weeks. When God spoke to him he told Daniel that his prayer had been heard since the first day he prayed (10:12). The beginnings of his stumbling response to that awesome revelation were registered in heaven. Daniel had no assurance of that, but he went on praying in faith for three more weeks. “Give me understanding,” he had cried. Nothing came. He prayed on, knocking at heaven’s door. He mourned and fasted, we are told (10:2). Three long weeks went by, and then Daniel went on with the administration of the Babylonian state. The long session of prayer came to an end, and he returned to his sphere of duty. He was with a group of men on the 24th January 537 BC (10:4). Daniel was visiting a place on the bank of the river Tigris with a group of men, when he looked up and there standing before him was the most breathtaking sight he had ever seen – far more glorious than anything Babylon had ever erected. Everything that Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, Darius and Cyrus all put together could make through their most skilful craftsmen paled besides this figure which Daniel saw. It was the same glorious person that Ezekiel had seen in the opening chapter of his prophecy, that Isaiah saw in the temple high and lifted up (Isaiah 6), that the three disciples saw on the Mount of Transfiguration, that Saul of Tarsus saw on the Damascus Road, that John saw on the Isle of Patmos. Daniel saw him too. The men with him were not granted the sight. It was the Messiahist who was given the revelation. The others were overwhelmed with the awe of the place and “fled and hid themselves (10:7). What Daniel saw was, “a man dressed in linen, with a belt of the finest gold around his waist. His body was like chrysolite, his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and his voice like the sound of a multitude” (10:6). The sight and the presence of this man overwhelmed Daniel, just as it overwhelmed Peter in the boat, Saul on the road, and John on the island. Daniel tells us, “I had no strength left, my face turned deathly pale and I was helpless … I fell into a deep sleep, my face to the ground” (10:9).
A man was once hanging about waiting to tell something to John MacArthur, and when the opportunity came he shared with John MacArthur how he often saw the Lord, that he had these visions of him, so that Jesus talked with him often. He said, “For example, he’ll come and speak to me while I am shaving.” John MacArthur said to him, “I have just one question. Do you stop shaving ?” When God appeared to the prophets and the apostles it was utterly devastating. They collapsed before him like a tree being felled. On their faces they fell, not backwards, and none of them laughed. It was a revelation of the glory of God, and it was always accompanied by a message. The vision never came mute.
God tells Daniel, “Your words were heard, and I have come in response to them” (10:12). Those words had been spoken over three weeks earlier, and Daniel had had to wait that length of time to know that God was listening. What might have happened in three weeks ? Might everything have been lost ? Yet his prayer had reached God’s ears immediately. Our prayers too are heard just as quickly as Daniel’s. It is not that eventually if we go on praying long enough that then God may hear us. From the first instance, when we set our minds to gain understanding and to humble ourselves before our God, our words are heard. “Since the first day” (10:12). That’s quick, but God can reply faster than that. He sometimes answers us before we call on him. Why did one week go by, and then two weeks went by, and before you knew it three entire weeks had passed and Daniel had no light ? There was still no assurance that God had heard his prayer. Why ? The answer is very simple. God often makes his people wait a while before they see the answer. Twenty-one days before the answer comes. Maybe twenty-one years. Sometimes we never see the answer with our eyes. In the 1650s John Flavel was preaching one Sunday in his church in Dartmouth in Devon and a 15-year-old boy named Luke Short was in the congregation. At the end of his sermon John Flavel prayed and asked God’s blessing on that message. Soon afterwards that teenager set sail from Dartmouth and emigrated to New England, in North America. When Luke Short was a hundred years old all the horrors of dying without Christ were impressed upon him and he remembered 85 years earlier the effects of the truths Flavel had preached to him which he had never been able to shake off, and he was converted (the incident is reported in The Mystery of Providence by John Flavel, Banner of Truth, paperback, p.11). John Flavel did not know that that prayer of his was going to be answered so many decades later, but seeing things is not important. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believed. If we had seen no answers to prayer (and I can’t believe in a company of people like this that we’ve seen no answers to our prayers), we yet believe God hears immediately when we pray. Without delay the Lord is weighing, judging, knowing everything and assessing what is the best for us and most to his glory.
That glorious man speaking to Daniel confirms the inevitability of the great war revealed to Daniel. He speaks first of the reality of spiritual conflict before turning (in chapter 11) to nations at war. He begins by telling Daniel that he has been resisting Satan’s work in Persia these past twenty-one days (10:13) Of course, he has been doing a billion other things, but this area which was on Daniel’s heart, has not been neglected. He wants to assure Daniel that the people of God in Babylon are being shepherded. They have been under attack, but omnipotent grace has been building his church and saving his people. Daniel must know that the Lord of glory is protecting the church in Persia – which is battling with principalities, powers and the rulers of the darkness of this world, just as he is helping the Messiahists in Greece (10:20).
The Devil is not omniscient. But though he does not know everything he is highly organised: he has an intricate network. Nothing is left haphazard, even to the smallest detail. Demons are not like dogs let loose in a park, chasing butterflies, sniffing at this bit of grass and at that tree trunk. They plan: they are structured. The Devil’s assistants are more cunning than diplomats, and their servants are more beautiful than angels of light. The Devil has a fifth column and it operates in every area, all the world over. He stirs up prejudice against the church of Christ, always seeking to resist the spread of the gospel and the building of God’s kingdom.
What of so-called ‘territorial spirits’ ? The claim is made that because there are these references to “the prince of the Persian kingdom” (10:13) and “the prince of Greece” (10:20) we are to believe that every community has ‘territorial spirits’ who rule over them and blind the inhabitants to the truth of the gospel. The claim is further made that there exist super-Christians with esoteric knowledge who know the actual names and jurisdictions of these spirits. They are able to bind those ‘princes’, release the captives and enable multitudes to come to faith in Christ. Chuck Lowe lectures at the Singapore Bible College and is the author of a helpful book Territorial Spirits and World Evangelism (OMF/Mentor). He points out that there is no indication in the Bible that Satan uses a special class of geographically-specific demons to hold unbelievers in darkness, nor that Satanic opposition can be overcome by the simple expedient of naming and binding demons. The prince of Persia and the prince of Greece were not two demons whose defined tasks were to guard those two areas in perpetuity. No one can possibly affirm that there are “guardian demons.” Persia itself waxed and waned as a power: its boundaries shrank: it became absorbed by other nations and cultures. So it has been with Greece. The book of Revelation describes Pergamum as the throne and dwelling of Satan (2:13), and that Smyrna and Philadelphia were locations of synagogues of Satan (2:9 & 3:9), and that Thyatira was the place where the teachings of Satan had entered the church (2:24). Such references are to the hostile Jews of Smyrna and Philadelphia constantly stirring up the persecution of servants of the Lord Jesus so that their synagogues were carrying out the activities of God’s supreme adversary. Pergamum was the official cult centre of the worship of the Roman emperor in Asia, and so had become the heart of Satan’s activity in this religion in the East – as Rome was in the West. When any political powers, religious organisations, false teachings or even personal agendas obstruct the work of God, they become for that period instruments/princes of Satan. This is what the reference to the “prince of Persia” in Daniel 10 is teaching.
How can Satan be defeated ? The glorious One seen by Daniel, has successfully resisted him, and he is the one who was to come in the flesh and would decisively defeat the powers of darkness by his life and death. The rule of Satan over the Gentiles has ended. The Lord Christ deposed him at the cross (John 12:31, 16:11, and Rev. 12:7-9). The gospel now goes outside the boundaries of Israel into every nation in the world. But as a wounded and cornered animal Satan will never stop attacking the people of God. To defeat him they must do what Daniel did, humble themselves, fast, pray and go about their duties faithfully, growing in influence as they serve God with a pure conscience. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Daniel sees “a great war” ahead, but a pledge of the victory is given him with the Lord Sabaoth’s Son resisting Satan’s devices in Babylon where the fight is the hottest. The Devil is seeking to turn the court against the people of God returning to Jerusalem. His ultimate intention is to prevent the Messiah being born one day in that land, amongst his own, and according to promise.
We are not ignorant of Satan’s devices, because we have the Bible. The Lord Jesus once said to Simon Peter, “Satan has asked to sift you like wheat. But I have prayed for you.” That is what we see here. Satan is sifting the people of God who are under Persian and Greek influence, but the great Captain of our salvation is building his church there. When the first wave of Jews to Israel were rebuilding Jerusalem there were minor diplomats filled with hatred at this development. Men called Rehum and Shimshai became virtual princes of Satan in their activities as they opposed the establishing of the kingdom of God. Wherever there is a flock of Christ’s sheep there are wolves that want to destroy them. Whenever the church advances dark principalities are at work. There is a great Reformation, and soon the backlash of a counter-Reformation appears. There is the Puritan period and it is not long before Unitarianism emerges. There is the rise of heart religion and then cerebral intellectualism appears. There is a fervent religious awakening with spontaneous preaching touching the masses, and then there comes an insistence on a learned ministry. Dark influences can promote fashions. One way of life becomes the new goal for the church. For example, all things Greek became enviable, its way of life, philosophy, poetry, architecture, laws, writings, and wisdom. “The Greeks seek after wisdom, and love something new,” observed the apostle Paul. A “prince of Greece” was selling that effectively to the world
The writings of Abraham Kuyper of Holland contain many references to the ‘spirit of the time.’ He once pointed to the unusual fact that we can find a certain heresy knocking at the door of the church in several places at the same time, yet without apparent collusion One thinks of how the 1960s’ legalisation of abortion spread from country to country within a few years. There are various aspects and factors which explain the ‘spirit of the age’ – public opinion, the style and fashion of life and the general way of thinking and speaking, but those factors are not in themselves sufficient to understand what is happening. There is also a ‘common moving power’ which escapes our analysis and is caused by mysterious influences from the myriad principalities of the world of darkness.
The power of the Captain of our salvation is needed to resist such a spirit, that we may stand in an evil day, and having done all to stand. “Do you know why I’ve come to you ?” asks Jehovah Jesus, “Soon I will return to fight against the prince of Persia, and when I go the prince of Greece will come” (Daniel 10:20). He is warning Daniel of new perils, and that he be on his guard. Christians absolutise an enemy. They focus their powers on resisting one cult, or one heresy. But the beast that comes from the sea has seven heads, not one. If you succeed in cutting off one there are still others to attack you. Daniel must not think victory over Persia will bring utopia. The prince of Greece is coming, and after him new threats.
“Daniel, you must watch and pray, for a principality is coming.” Old Daniel was much wiser than young Peter. Old Daniel did not say, “That’s all right Lord. If all the others run away in panic, you just count on me.” Daniel knew his own heart better than Peter did. He had also experienced something of Satan’s attacks across his long life. We are told that Daniel took the vision containing this warning with deep seriousness. He bowed with his face toward the ground; he was speechless. When someone helped him to speak all he could say was “I am overcome with anguish because of the vision, my lord, and I am helpless. How can I, your servant, talk with you, my Lord ? My strength is gone and I can hardly breathe’ “(10:17)
This is a man who through all his life has been brave. What courage he showed when he confronted Nebuchadnezzar as a teenager, and years later Belshazzar when awakened from his sleep, and later when thrown into a den of lions by Darius’ men. But here he stands where we all one day must stand, before Him who is without beginning, without ending; a God who is infinite, eternal, unchangeable in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness and truth, the one before whom we float like infinitely small specks on his eternal vision. How insignificant we are before him. In addition this Lord is telling Daniel of Satan’s war with the church, and Daniel needs to be strengthened to receive the message (10:19). Many Christians know such experiences, when personal attacks of the evil one have been rending times, when a consciousness of his malice has torn them apart. We have known what it is steadily to be engulfed with multiple waves of anger, bitterness, self-pity, malice and frustration. We have experienced this driving across the Welsh hills and had to stop the car and get out. We are acquainted with such devices. Satan wants to destroy the peace and assurance of every one of us. Daniel’s strength vanishes at the nearness of the Holy One of Israel and the knowledge of the great war, and it is then that this act of divine pity comes; “the one who looked like a man touched me and gave me strength. ‘Do not be afraid, O man highly esteemed,’ he said” (10:19). That is, “I really love you,” says the one who looked like a man. Then he adds, “Peace! Be strong now; Be strong.” Daniel who trembled at the word of God was strengthened by it. Everything that permanently transforms and elevates men comes to them via the Word.
There is nothing like the Bible, is there ? We have gone to church thinking we believe nothing. We’ve climbed those pulpit steps and we’ve wondered, ” if they only knew what a hypocrite was standing in front of them.” We started to worship God. We have sung ourselves into faith. We have read ourselves into hope. We have prayed ourselves into trust. We have preached ourselves into assurance. Not in hours, but in minutes. The congregation has been awakened too. The Word has done it. “When he spoke to me, I was strengthened,” testifies Daniel (10:19). The prophet could face the future saying, “Speak, my Lord, since you have given me strength.” Because Daniel knows of the Lord’s triumph in the battle with principalities and powers he is prepared for the lesser national conflicts that lay ahead, which is what chapter 11 is all about.