During the seventy years of captivity in Babylon, God raised up two prophets. Ezekiel was a prisoner of war like Daniel, but Ezekiel lived among the captives while Daniel lived in the ivory halls of power. Ezekiel was timid and afraid of public speaking, so the Lord prompted him to “act out” various signs for the elders of Israel to watch. Notice this sign: “… This will be a sign to the house of Israel… [Ezekiel] lie on your left side and put the sin of the house of Israel upon yourself. You are to bear their sin for the number of days you lie on your side. I have assigned you the same number of days as the years of their sin. So the 390 days you will bear the sin of the house of Israel. ‘After you have finished this, lie down again, this time on your right side, and bear the sin of the house of Judah. I have assigned you 40 days, a day for each year.’” (Ezekiel 4:3,6, insertion mine) This text is important because we find the length of rebellion to be a total of 430 years. (390 + 40 = 430) This number should catch the attention of the reader, because it is the same number of years mentioned in Exodus 12:41. These two separate and distinct instances of 430 years have three things in common: apostasy, timing and vigil. First, the apostasy of the Israelites in Egypt is no different from the apostasy of the Israelites in the promised land of Canaan! Apostasy is the direction of fallen man. Second, God’s timing was perfect in both instances. The Bible says that God delivered the Israelites from Egyptian slavery exactly 430 years later, to the very day. (Exodus 12:41) If God delivered Israel from Egypt on time, then it should come as no surprise that He sent them into captivity on time as well. It should be noted that when Israel had filled up their cup of iniquity by violating seventy Sabbath years, God sent them into captivity! How do we know this? Ezekiel performed the “430 day” sign for the elders of Israel, because they knew there are seventy Sabbatical years in 430 years. In other words, the Babylonian captivity was seventy years in length because that is the exact number of Sabbath years Israel violated. Remember God’s threat in Leviticus 26:34,35? “Then the land will enjoy its Sabbath years all the time that it lies desolate and you are in the country of your enemies; then the land will rest and enjoy its Sabbaths. All the time that it lies desolate, the land will have the rest it did not have during the Sabbaths you lived in it.” This text points to a significant parallel between these 430-year periods. Third, God keeps vigil. He does not sleep. He is very much aware of everything that takes place on Earth and He steps into the affairs of men when the timing is perfect. He delivered Israel from the slavery in Egypt on time, and He sent Israel into captivity in Babylon on time! Even more, the next text demonstrates that God delivered Israel from captivity right on time!
The Bible says, “God handed all o f them [the Hebrews] over to Nebuchadnezzar. He carried to Babylon all the articles from the temple of God, both large and small, and the treasures of the Lord’s temple and the treasure of the king and his officials. They set fire to God’s temple and broke down the wall of Jerusalem; they burned all the palaces and destroyed everything of value there. He carried into exile to Babylon the remnant, who escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and his sons until the kingdom of Persia came to power. The land enjoyed its Sabbath rests; all the time of its desolation it rested, until the seventy years were completed in fulfillment of the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah.” (2 Chronicles 36:17-21, insertion mine) Again, the reason for the Babylonian captivity is simple and obvious. God handed over Israel over to Nebuchadnezzar because of disloyalty. Israel refused to keep His Sabbath days and His Sabbath years, so He evicted them and the land rested for seventy years.
THE POLITICAL SITUATION IN DANIEL’S SIXTY-EIGHTH YEAR
It was most unusual in ancient times for a conquering king to give a prisoner of war a position of high authority in his government. The possibility of treason or rebellion was just too great.
Incredible as it was, this happened to Daniel three times. Nebuchadnezzar promoted Daniel to one of the highest governing positions after Daniel interpreted his dream. Belteshazzar promoted Daniel to one of the highest governing positions after Daniel read the handwriting on the wall. Finally, Darius promoted Daniel to one of the highest positions in the kingdom when Darius became king. Do you think Daniel’s promotion had anything to do with his loyalty to God?
Daniel must have believed that God placed him in a very powerful political position within the government of Darius so that he, Daniel might facilitate Israel’s release from captivity. However, Daniel was nearing ninety years of age, and he knew that if he acted on his own he might interfere with God’s marvelous ways as Moses did when he wrongfully killed the Egyptian. (Exodus 2:11-14) Daniel also knew that if any of his actions backfired, many Hebrews would suffer, as in the days when Moses and Aaron ordered the Hebrew slaves to rest from their weekly labors before the Exodus. (Exodus 5:5) Daniel was aware that he would dishonor God if his actions to free his people aroused suspicion, jealousy or any hint of rebellion against the Medes and Persians. Many of the Chaldeans intensely hated the Hebrews, and any move on Daniel’s part to free his people would probably he construed as treason. If Daniel was convicted in a court of public opinion, he knew the punishment was sudden death.
Note: Hatred for the Hebrews erupted throughout the Persian kingdom about seventy years after Daniel died. The noble, Haman, obtained a universal death decree from king Artaxerxes for all the Hebrews in the Persian kingdom, but God used a strategically-placed Queen Ester to save His people.
Daniel’s dilemma also had other ramifications. During the seventy years of captivity in Babylon, the Hebrews multiplied and integrated into the province of Babylon. In some cities, the Hebrews prospered, while others remained servants or slaves of the Chaldeans. When Darius began his reign over Babylon, most of the captives from Jerusalem had died. Therefore the next generation had little attachment to Jerusalem, a place they had not seen. In fact, when King Cyrus set the Hebrews free in 536 B.C., Ezra 2 indicates that a small minority of captives, 29,818 Hebews males, returned to Jerusalem.
POLITICAL AND ECONOMIC PROBLEMS
Daniel knew the emancipation of his people after seventy years in Babylon could cause many problems for King Darius. If large numbers of Chaldeans lost their slaves, financial losses could destabilize the economy and produce social unrest. Daniel was also aware that during the seventy years of desolation, tribal nations had moved into Jerusalem and a returning Israel would be embroiled in wars and land disputes unless there was a royal land grant decreed by the king who ruled over the territory of Canaan. Therefore, any decree that freed the Hebrews from the province of Babylon would also require a land grant by King Cyrus, who ruled over Canaan. Daniel’s desire, of course, was that his people would recover the land they had lost, but the political and economic problems of setting Israel free greatly perplexed Daniel. What could he do to facilitate the freedom of his people? Even if they were set free, how would he motivate a majority of the Hebrews to return to Jerusalem? Daniel’s mind must have churned over these issues for months. As a high government official, he saw how a significant exodus from Babylon could be a political nightmare.
JEALOUSY KNOWS NO BOUNDS
From Daniel’s point of view, the upcoming seventieth year, 536/5 B.C., would not be a very good year to attempt the release of the Hebrews. Even though Daniel held one of the highest positions in the empire, Darius was a king over the province of Babylon. This meant a new administration was in place adhering to a new set of powerful nobles who hated the Hebrews. As Daniel pondered his helpless position, it became apparent to him that Israel’s deliverance from slavery would have to be an “Act of God,” a miracle as great as the Exodus from Egypt. To his credit, Daniel faithfully carried out his responsibilities within Darius’ administration, and Darius came to explicitly trust his elder statesman. The Bible says of this time period, “Now Daniel so distinguished himself among the administrators and the satraps by his exceptional qualities that the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom.” (Daniel 6:3)
Sometime during Darius’first calendar year (538/7 B.C.), Daniel decided the best thing he could do was seeking God’s wisdom through fasting, praying and wearing sackcloth and ashes. Time was running out! The seventieth year was approaching fast. Therefore, Daniel sought the Lord in utter humility to see what God wanted of him. To be seen in sackcloth and ashes was a sign of mourning or extreme humiliation. To the Medes and Persians, Daniel’s appearance must have been very odd since he usually wore clothing appropriate for his exalted office. Regardless, Daniel embarrassed (humbled) himself before God as a man in sackcloth and ashes, demonstrating that God could use him in whatever meaningful or menial way God desired.
Unbeknown to Daniel, King Darius had planned to promote Daniel above the other two governors of his empire. Evidently, Darius decided to do this because he had contracted a degenerating health problem. Darius favored Daniel because Daniel was “pure in heart,” a very unusual quality among people in a political office. Darius also wanted to make Daniel, “the Hebrew,” his number two man in the kingdom because this would strategically protect his throne when he became too weak to meet the day-to-day needs of his office. Unlike the other two administrators, Darius knew Daniel would be loyal to him instead of an inner or hidden ambition to acquire his throne. Darius knew that even an intelligent Hebrew could not aspire to be king over an empire of Medes. By putting Daniel in the number two seat, Darius knew his throne would be safe from the schemes of ambitious politicians and administrators.
Somehow, Darius’ plans were leaked to the two administrators, and they were filled with jealousy and rage. No self respecting Mede or Persian would be subject to a Hebrew! Jealousy and hatred for Daniel, “the Hebrew,” led them to search for anything they could use to mar Daniel’s reputation and disqualify him from such a position of honor. They closely studied Daniel’s personal history, conducted interviews and audited his finances trying to find a flaw in his character. They were unable to find anything. The Bible says,
“At this, the administrators and the satraps tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs, but they were unable to do so. They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent. Finally these men said, ‘We will never find any basis for charges against this man Daniel unless it has something to do with the law of his God.” (Daniel 6:4,5) Given the hatred and determination of his enemies, and the notorious behavior of politicians down through the ages, these amazing words coming from their lips!
PUTTING THE SQUEEZE ON DANIEL
Finally, the administrators and satraps concluded that the only way to stop Darius from promoting Daniel was to prove to Darius that Daniel’s loyalty to his “Hebews” God was higher than the loyalty to Darius. They figured the question of loyalty would prove their point. When it comes to politics, kings have to be gods. Their ego and government rests upon nothing less than total submission and devotion to their will. If no one respects the king, how can he be king? Therefore, ancient kings to ferret out people with bad attitudes sometimes used “loyalty tests.” This may explain why Darius did not quibble or hesitate to issue a loyalty decree. Loyalty tests were simple: During the specified month, suspects were arraigned and questioned before a court of political leaders. If the suspect freely confessed allegiance to the king as his highest authority on Earth, the suspect would then affirm his loyalty to the king by swearing an oath. However, if the suspect was hostile toward the king or plotting rebellion, a “loyalty test” became a life and death issue, even though the suspect may not have been caught doing anything wrong. This is why loyalty tests were so effective. If the suspect refused to take an oath affirming his allegiance and submission to the king, he was declared a rebel and killed immediately. On the other hand, if he lied about his allegiance to the king and gave an oath of loyalty, his sympathizers would see that the suspect was a common coward and a liar. Who could respect such a disgusting person? This technique for testing loyalty was simple and effective. Incidentally, the Caesars also used loyalty tests. Thousands of Christians perished because they would not bow down before the “man-god,” Caesar. (John 19:15; Romans 10:9) During the Great Tribulation, God will use a simple loyalty test. A test of worship will put the “squeeze” on every person and our deepest loyalties will be “squeezed out” for everyone to see. (See Revelation 13:8-18.)
THE PERFECT PLOT
The crafty administrators asked Darius for permission to conduct a “loyalty check” for three reasons: First, a loyalty test was a well-known tactic. Since the province of Babylon was a new territory for Darius, a loyalty test appeared to be a “good idea” to eliminate those who might be rebellious. Second, if Daniel should slip through the thirty-day decree trap, Darius would never know the real motives behind the administrators’ request for the loyalty test. Third, if Daniel were caught in their trap, he would be “legally” killed because the law demanded the sudden death of anyone caught in rebellion against the king. If Daniel were destroyed, the administrators would not be implicated in Daniel’s death. The “loyalty test” seemed like the perfect way to eliminate Daniel, or so they thought.
When the administrators asked the king for a loyalty decree, they must have known that Darius did not know about Daniel’s current state of humiliation. If Darius had been aware of Daniel’s behavior, praying to his God three times a day in sackcloth and ashes, this knowledge would have foiled their plot. “So the administrators and the satraps went as a group to the king and said: ‘O King Darius, live forever! The royal administrators, prefects, satraps, advisers and governors have all agreed that the king should issue an edict and enforce the decree that anyone who prays to any god or man during the next thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be thrown into the lion’s den. Now, O king, issue the decree and put into writing so that it cannot be altered in accordance with the laws of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be repealed.’ So King Darius put the decree in writing.” (Daniel 6:6-9)