During the first year of Cyrus (which coincides with the first year of Darius), Daniel remembered the prophecies concerning the end of captivity and prayed for their fulfillment. Gabriel came to Daniel to reassure him and to reveal more truth concerning the work of the Messiah, the ultimate liberator who would redeem humanity by taking sin upon Himself into death and purify the cosmos of sin forever.
In the third year of Cyrus, a[nother] message was revealed to Daniel… and the message was true and one of great conflict. (Daniel 10:1)
Already from the beginning of this chapter we learn that this vision is one of “great conflict.” We also learn that, unlike in chapter 8 where Daniel was left in darkness about the meaning of that vision, now “he understood the message and had an understanding of the vision.” (10:1) The prophet discloses his reaction to this in vivid terms;
In those days, I, Daniel, had been mourning for three entire weeks. 3 I did not eat any tasty food, nor did meat or wine enter my mouth, nor did I use any ointment at all until the entire three weeks were completed. (Daniel 10:2)
Conflict on Earth
A little history will help put this episode in perspective. We are in 536/535, the year following the first wave of return from the exile under Sheshbazzar. Ezra’s record of this event is clear, comprehensive, and concise:
1In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing: 2 ‘Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. 3 Whoever is among you of all his people, may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel—he is the God who is in Jerusalem. 4 And let each survivor, in whatever place he sojourns, be assisted by the men of his place with silver and gold, with goods and with beasts, besides freewill offerings for the house of God that is in Jerusalem.’5 Then rose up the heads of the fathers’ houses of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and the Levites, everyone whose spirit God had stirred to go up to rebuild the house of the Lord that is in Jerusalem. 6 And all who were about them aided them with vessels of silver, with gold, with goods, with beasts, and with costly wares, besides all that was freely offered. 7 Cyrus the king also brought out the vessels of the house of the Lord that Nebuchadnezzar had carried away from Jerusalem and placed in the house of his gods. 8 Cyrus king of Persia brought these out in the charge of Mithredath the treasurer, who counted them out to Sheshbazzar the prince of Judah. 9 And this was the number of them: 30 basins of gold, 1,000 basins of silver, 29 censers, 10 30 bowls of gold, 410 bowls of silver, and 1,000 other vessels; 11 all the vessels of gold and of silver were 5,400. All these did Sheshbazzar bring up, when the exiles were brought up from Babylonia to Jerusalem (Ezra 1:1-11).
Sounds pretty hopeful, no? Cyrus’ declaration of return is filled with good will towards the Jews. Stirred by God to build him a house at Jerusalem (v. 2, reiterated in vs. 3 and 5), the Persian king paved the way for the exiles to return in peace, bringing with them the vessels of the house of the Lord that Nebuchadnezzar had carried away from Jerusalem and placed in the house of his gods (v. 7) – 5,400 in total (v. 11). Cyrus also asked the local communities within his vast kingdom to help the Jews with silver and gold, with goods and with beasts (v. 4), and even encouraged donations for the temple of God. After this account, chapter 2 in Ezra gives a detailed numeric record of those who returned to Jerusalem and Judah, each to his own town (2:1) – men, priests, Levites, temple servants, singers, and servants (Ezra 2:1-70). In chapter 3 we begin to notice problems.
RELATED ARTICLE: An Introduction to Biblical Narrative Analysis
A few months after their arrival, the Jews rebuilt the altar and “set the altar in its place, for fear was on them because of the peoples of the lands, and they offered burnt offerings on it to the Lord, burnt offerings morning and evening.” (Ezra 3:3) In other words, feeling afraid of the surrounding nations, the Jews began performing the temple service before the foundation of the temple of the Lord was even laid (Ezra 3:7)! Slowly, the construction of the temple started to take shape under the supervision of the Levites (3:8, 9) and the completion of the foundation was met with shouts of joy and with loud weeping. (Ezra 3:10-13).
In chapter 4 the opposition from locals begins to emerge more clearly. When their request to participate in the construction was denied (Ezra 4:1-3), they “discouraged the people of Judah and made them afraid to build 5 and bribed counselors against them to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia.” (Ezra 4:4, 5). As stated by Doukhan,
hostile silence greets the joyful cries of the returning exiles. Those left behind in the land hardly expected nor willed the return of the zealous refugees. … Instead, they make every attempt to undermine the former exiles, employing discouragement, threats, accusatory letters to the Persian authorities, and corrupting the officiating Temple priests.[i]
No doubt, news about these problems reached and deeply troubled the aged Daniel. As a result, he fasted for twenty-one days – seven times the typical length of a repentance fast (see Ex. 19:10-15, Esther 4:16). Moreover, this extensive fast took place “during the time of Passover and of the unleavened bread,” which also explains his abstinence from the meat and wine consumption otherwise required during the feast. Daniel’s Passover fast and his refusal to participate in such important meal rituals is intriguing. Some commentators “justify Daniel’s decision …on the grounds that the interruption of the Temple’s construction warranted such a response,”[ii] and Doukhan notes that a similar situation of Passover fasting is recorded in Esther 4:16.
After the conclusion of the Passover week, Daniel received a vision. Building upon the conflict in Jerusalem between the Jews and their adversaries over the construction of God’s Temple, the vision presents a wider perspective of the greater conflict between good and evil, between God and Satan. Glimpses of that were already given to the prophet in chapters 8 and 9, highlighting key events in the story of salvation and situating them in the historical timeline of humankind. In the last three chapters, which make-up one long episode, this perspective is broadened with more details.
RELATED ARTICLE: The Time of the End
Five characters are present and speak in this concluding segment of the book of Daniel: Daniel, a man dressed in linen, Gabriel, and “two others” (12:5). Let’s see what we can learn about the man in linen and about the angel here, in chapter 10.
A Man Dressed in Linen
4 On the twenty-fourth day of the first month, while I was by the bank of the great river, that is, the Tigris, 5 I lifted my eyes and looked, and behold, there was a certain man dressed in linen, whose waist was girded with a belt of pure gold of Uphaz. 6 His body also was like beryl, his face had the appearance of lightning, his eyes were like flaming torches, his arms and feet like the gleam of polished bronze, and the sound of his words like the sound of a tumult. 7 Now I, Daniel, alone saw the vision, while the men who were with me did not see the vision; nevertheless, a great dread fell on them, and they ran away to hide themselves. 8 So I was left alone and saw this great vision; yet no strength was left in me, for my natural color turned to a deathly pallor, and I retained no strength.9 But I heard the sound of his words; and as soon as I heard the sound of his words, I fell into a deep sleep on my face, with my face to the ground. (Daniel 10:4-9)
Doukhan makes an interesting connection between this episode and Joshua 5: firstly, both happen after a Passover (in Joshua just before Israel’s entry in Canaan); secondly, both writers begin their account of the vision with the words “I looked up and there before me was a man” (Daniel 10:5; Joshua 5:13); lastly, the man in Joshua’s vision is identified as “commander of the army” (Joshua 5:14, 15) – the same expression used in Daniel 8:11 where it signifies the heavenly High Priest, and, while separately, both words also appear in Daniel 10 (vs. 1, 13, 21). Thus,
our text of Daniel 10 echoes … Daniel 8:11 and Joshua 5:14, 15. The ‘man’ of Daniel’s vision, the supernatural warrior of Joshua’s vision, and the heavenly high priest of Daniel 8 are the same person.[iii]
The linen robe and belt of gold clearly recalls the apparel of the high priest (Lev. 16:4, 23, Ex. 28:4-8), though this High Priest seems to be of a whole other order:
His body also was like beryl, his face had the appearance of lightning, his eyes were like flaming torches, his arms and feet like the gleam of polished bronze, and the sound of his words like the sound of a tumult. (Daniel 10:6)
This is a supernatural being whose appearance is described in similar terminology elsewhere in Scripture. In Ezekiel 1 we find the expressions “lightning,” “burnished bronze,” “chrysolite,” “fire,” and “voice like a multitude.” John’s depiction in Revelation 1 has common elements, too:
13 and in the midst of the lampstands one like a son of man, clothed with a long robe and with a golden sash around his chest. 14 The hairs of his head were white, like white wool, like snow. His eyes were like a flame of fire, 15 his feet were like burnished bronze, refined in a furnace, and his voice was like the roar of many waters. 16 In his right hand he held seven stars, from his mouth came a sharp two-edged sword, and his face was like the sun shining in full strength. (Revelation 1:13-16).
Both Ezekiel and John identify this being as the Lord Jesus Christ, the “son of man,” the High Priest. It is no wonder that, as the two other prophets, Daniel became afraid when finding himself before God.
Conflict Beyond Earth
The aged prophet is not left without comfort.
10 Then behold, a hand touched me and set me trembling on my hands and knees. 11 He said to me, ‘O Daniel, man of high esteem, understand the words that I am about to tell you and stand upright, for I have now been sent to you.’ And when he had spoken this word to me, I stood up trembling. 12 Then he said to me, ‘Do not be afraid, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart on understanding this and on humbling yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to your words. 13 But the prince of the kingdom of Persia was withstanding me for twenty-one days; then behold, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I had been left there with the kings of Persia. 14 Now I have come to give you an understanding of what will happen to your people in the latter days, for the vision pertains to the days yet future.’ Daniel 10:10-14)
As evident in the common terminology with Daniel 8 and 9, Gabriel comes to Daniel again in order to strengthen him and facilitate the contact between him and the Lord. As before, his prayer was heard the moment it began, yet twenty-one days passed until he received some evidence of this. Gabriel explains his delay in terms rather puzzling to some Bible readers:
the prince of the kingdom of Persia was withstanding me for twenty-one days; then behold, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I had been left there with the kings of Persia. (Daniel 10:13).
This image of conflict reveals a real antagonism with a real adversary who appears to have some power to withstand angels. Only one creature in the universe has such power: Satan.
RELATED ARTICLE: How to Read Prophecy Pt. 2 –Reading with Hebrew Eyes
To be sure, whatever power Satan possesses to oppose God and harm His people is only due to God allowing this. John Peckham speaks of this in his book A Theodicy of Love where he notes that a conflict between God and Satan over God’s character cannot be settled by force. Nothing but a demonstration of God’s character can bring this conflict to an end and prevent similar tragedies in the universe. So, for the time being, Satan is allowed some jurisdiction and power according to the transparent rules of engagement both he and God must adhere to.[iv] The text does not give us specifics about this conflict, but it implies that both good and evil powers pull the strings of history behind an invisible curtain. Is there any indication that this controversy will close, and close well?
Conflict Eventually Ends
The conflict between Gabriel and Satan over controlling history is but one piece in the picture of the great controversy between God and Satan, yet an important one as prophetic messages must be fulfilled. But God’s plan cannot be thwarted and history will move according to prophesized events: Greece will succeed Medo-Persia, with Michael’s intervention if needed. The last verses in Daniel 10 indicate this as the contact between the prophet and the supernatural beings continues.
15When he had spoken to me according to these words, I turned my face toward the ground and became speechless. 16 And behold, one who resembled a human being was touching my lips; then I opened my mouth and spoke and said to him who was standing before me, ‘O my lord, as a result of the vision anguish has come upon me, and I have retained no strength. 17 For how can such a servant of my lord talk with such as my lord? As for me, there remains just now no strength in me, nor has any breath been left in me.’ 18 Then this one with human appearance touched me again and strengthened me. 19 He said, ‘O man of high esteem, do not be afraid. Peace be with you; take courage and be courageous!” Now as soon as he spoke to me, I received strength and said, “May my lord speak, for you have strengthened me.’ 20 Then he said, ‘Do you understand why I came to you? But I shall now return to fight against the prince of Persia; so I am going forth, and behold, the prince of Greece is about to come. 21 However, I will tell you what is inscribed in the writing of truth. Yet there is no one who stands firmly with me against these forces except Michael your prince.’ (Daniel 10:15-21)
If history will continue to unfold according to prophecies, Greece would succeed Medo-Persia, Rome would succeed Greece, and eventually God will succeed all these ephemeral empires by settling an everlasting kingdom free of sin, suffering, and misuse of power. Doukhan brings this key point home when he writes:
The priest with eyes of fire … is in fact Michael – the son of man of chapter 7 and the Prince of princes of chapter 8. In chapters 7 and 8 the being had appeared only after the long and tumultuous history of the kingdoms born of the waters, symbol of nothingness and darkness. But in chapter 10 the revelation takes an abrupt shortcut. Bypassing the kingdoms, the being appears immediately upon the waters. It is as if we had already reached the last stage of the coming of the ‘Son of man.’ Michael … is the one who concludes the line of the beasts in chapter 7 and in chapter 8. But he is also the one who stood before Joshua on the plain of Jericho, carried Israel across the Jordan River, fought for them, and led them finally into the Promised Land.[v]
Secrets to Success
Our Promised Land – the heavenly Canaan. Sung about, written about, hoped and anticipated as the final relief from all that has ever been wrong with life on this earth. Yes, it will come. Yes, Satan will attempt to preclude this. No, he will not succeed. The last vision of Daniel continues in chapters 11 and 12, concluding the book with what is probably the most difficult and mystifying prophecy about the end-times, but also with the certain promise about the closure of this great conflict. This is the secret about this controversy – a secret God, in His mercy, has revealed to us in Scripture: the victory belongs to God. And if it belongs to God, it will benefit God’s followers. Should we be among them – as is God’s utmost desire — faith will conquer fear, hope will crush despair, and love will survive the destruction of all that is deadly.
[i] Jacques Doukhan, Secrets of Daniel (Hagerstown, MD: Review and Herald, 2000), p. 157-158.
[ii] Doukhan, p. 158.
[iii] Doukhan, p. 159.
[iv] John C. Peckham, Theodicy of Love: Cosmic Conflict and the Problem of Evil (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2018), p. 87-118.
[v] Doukhan, p. 163.