Lecture 27: Daniel, Esther, and Isaiah
Course: Old Testament Survey
Lecture: Daniel, Esther, & Isaiah
I. Overview of Daniel
Here is an overview look at the way Daniel is structured. It is really very visibly bifid. You have six chapters of stories about Daniel and then six chapters of apocalyptic prophecy. I am going to talk about apocalyptic very shortly and what its basic characteristics are. You have the various stories. If you have ever read through the book, you know about all the ways in which there are challenges and dangers for Daniel or opportunities for him to interpret dreams that help you appreciate the nature of what is coming. All the themes of those are that the world empires must eventually give way to God’s empire.
Then with chapter 7 you start in the apocalyptic visionary material. You notice that there are three chapters that are each individual visions, 7, 8, and 9, and then a big, single three-chapter vision in 10-12, so the second half also kind of divides. It is all very neatly structured. Daniel may not have had these things happen in the order that they are given. They have been ordered more thematically and structurally than chronologically perhaps, but we do not know that for sure. Although, there appears to be a general, chronological order from earliest to latest in the first half, so that could be also true in the second as well.
The point of all of these visions is that whatever is happening now, whatever is going on with all these great nations and these superpowers of Daniel’s day, it will not last. It may take centuries, it may go from one nation to another, but in the final analysis there will be a special new kingdom, the kingdom of the Messiah, that is going to finally rule. It is going to eliminate all earthly kingdoms and it is going to last forever and ever. That is the great message of the Book of Daniel.
The sub themes of the first section are stories about faith under oppression, trusting in God during times that are hard, and continuing to pray. The big theme even of the first part of the book is, “Look, if you are God’s people, you don’t have to worry about the nation you are under. It can be a good nation, it can be crummy nation, you can be in times of relative freedom or times of horrible oppression; you know where things are headed. You trust in God and all will come right.” That is really what both parts of the book are emphasizing.
II. Orienting Data for Daniel
A. Style factor
First the style factor. Certain critical scholars have said, “These stories in the Book of Daniel are obviously folk stories. They aren’t historical.” That is a huge mistake. How you tell a story can vary enormously. You can tell a story that is perfectly true in a comic book format. Comic book strips are usually the kind of thing that are fictitious, but they do not need to be. Likewise, you can take pure nonsense and make it look historical. We could make up a story of how Hillary Clinton landed here in a flying saucer and came into class and pulled off her face mask and turned out to be an alien from the Andromeda Galaxy and was here to destroy the world and we overpowered her and saved the world. Pure nonsense, but we could do it in the form of a scholarly journal article with sections and headings and a huge bibliographical reference and excellent footnotes. The style of how you write something does not say whether it is historical or not. Do not ever be fooled by that.
Because Daniel is reflecting life under the foreign regime and in that foreign regime, it has the biggest Aramaic section in the Bible. Aramaic was the language most people were speaking. They were all from different linguistic groups and Aramaic was the lingua franca of the day.
1. There are some great doubts about the dating of Daniel.
2. The traditional date is that Daniel was written sometime around and about events that take place in the sixth-century BC. That is what it purports to be, as seen in the following:
a. The quality of the Aramaic.
b. The presence already at Qumran of fragments of the Book of Daniel.
c. Its immediate acceptance already in the Maccabean period when others think it was composed suddenly.
d. The knowledge of certain key details that are represented and probably were lost and again confirmed only by archeological excavation.
e. The tricky issues of Belshazzar’s co-regency again, not known anywhere in the ancient world as far as we know.
f. Lots of other kinds of details, etc.
1. However, other people have said, “No, this book was made up in the Maccabean period.” That is a period in the second-century BC starting around 180-175 when the Jews were trying to revolt against the terrible oppressors called the Seleucids, a particular Greek empire.
2. Otherwise, the author would be Daniel himself because that is what the book seems to be and there is widespread agreement that a single person wrote all of this. So either somebody made it up in this Maccabean period and projected it back in time or that it really comes from that time.
III. Apocalyptic as a Category
I do want to address the characteristics of apocalyptic because it applies to both Daniel and some of Isaiah. It applies to Ezekiel, Daniel, parts of Isaiah, Joel and Zachariah. There are five Old Testament books that have a lot of apocalyptic in them. Apocalyptic is a type of literature that emphasizes that somebody has revealed to him how everything is going to turn out. It is the revelation of, the uncovering of, history from this point to the end. That is what apocalyptic means. Apocalypse means an uncovered thing. You can also say it is a revelation, a revealed thing.
First of all, apocalyptic is visionary. It has lots of visions in it. Just as you would expect in the second half of Daniel, the apocalyptic part, which is loaded with visions.
B. Great sweep of history
Secondly, it deals with the great sweep of history. Apocalyptic literature is saying, “Let me tell you how history goes from now to the very end.”
C. Numerical coding
It tells you through a lot of numerical coding. It is very common to get seventy of this and three and a half of that and four hundred and ninety of these and so on. Part of the reason is to say, “Look, God has decided how history is going to unfold. He has it all figured out. By way of these symbolic numbers we also give you the impression that if you really knew what these numbers meant, you yourself could add it up.” The question is, does the numbers really have enough information to tell you that? People have always tried to crack the codes but not always with much success. Some have argued, “No, the numbers are too hidden. They are just ways of saying God has it all numbered and that is what we are to understand.”
There are also a lot of symbols.
You have statues, you have images, and you have things that people see.
These statues and images and visions and so on of figures and events, they all give you a feel, they are all devices for giving you an understanding of what history is going to do, what is going to happen.
This gives encouragement. How does it give encouragement? It is not easy to be in a situation that is rotten because you are a believer. Many people live in those situations today with their faith crushed and living in oppression. A lot of the world just looks at the freedom we have to be religious in any way we want and is amazed by it. That is not their experience; they have never known that. So if you know that what you believe is true and that God is unveiling how it will all come to fruition so that your faith is rightly placed, that is very encouraging. If you know that the nations now oppressing you will one day be eliminated, that is very encouraging. So it does encourage you in hard times.
G. Prophet-angel / prophet-God dialogue
There is often a prophet-angel dialogue or a prophet-God dialogue because what happens is a progressive unveiling in apocalyptic literature. The prophet sees something, a scene God lets him see, a vision or whatever, and he says, “What does this mean?” and it gets explained. You will see that question and answer format all over the place in these kinds of books.
H. Hidden truth is revealed
It is true; it is just that it was not generally known. You get in on it if you are the prophet and your job is to convey it to others. This gives certainty for the elect. If they know they are going to win, it is nice; it is good to have that encouragement. That is important to know that if you are God’s chosen people based on your faith in him, then there is no doubt about the outcome. I list four of the major Old Testament books because Joel has the fewest of these characteristics and then the Book of Revelation which is loaded with them. The apocalyptic can be in one part or the other. Daniel is a bifid book, in Daniel the apocalyptic comes at the end. Zachariah is a bifid book, in Zachariah the apocalyptic comes at the beginning. There is no special thing in the way it has to be located, just be aware that it can be in either place.
IV. Overview of Esther
Esther is a book that gets misunderstood a lot.
It tends to get interpreted exemplaristicly. What do we mean by that? What tends to happen is that people say, “I want to see what Esther had and I want some of that.” Many women have Bible studies and they want to be more like Esther. The problem is that Esther is a mix of good and not so good. God is using her the same way He uses many characters in the Bible who are not consistently exemplary. He uses them for His purposes. You have to watch that and not just say, “Well, if Esther did it, it must be good.”
1. It is a story about how Jews escaped an extermination during the Persian Empire; a war of extermination that is planned against them. This is during the time of a king named Xerxes who, as far as we know, reigned about 486 to 463, 464 or so BC.
2. Esther is a Jewish woman who became a queen and, with the help of her cousin/stepfather (he is her cousin but he adopted her), helps preserve the Jews. That sounds great and is great; it is a wonderful thing and a blessing of God.
1. Probably written by some fifth-century Jew.
2. Prominent in the civil service because of his vast ability to quote from the Persian records. There were a number of Jews in the civil service; Daniel was the most prominent. Remember that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, Daniels associates, are as well. So this tradition was there.
1. Most of it takes place during a single year, so probably near the end around 470 or 465.
2. It could have been written down later; that is always possible especially because of its connections with the feast of Purim.
1. How Jewish people and Jewish identities survive in a hostile culture.
2. The importance of remembering that God was merciful to a whole group of people. It is very easy to say however, “Oh good, the Book of Esther represents a wonderful story of faithful people trusting in a reliable God.” Esther is in a tradition of several Biblical characters who have a kind of a up-and-down story to their life. There are a lot of Biblical characters like this. A number of characters, out of the dozens whose stories we know quite a bit about, have this kind of situation. They are in a position of honor of some kind that is challenged and then vindicated and even enhanced.
V. Themes and Issues in Esther
A. Those who did not return to Judah
More important, what kinds of questions is Esther answering? One of the questions is this: What about the Jews who did not go back with people like Zerubbabel and Jeshua, who did not answer the call of God as it is made in Isaiah, but who stayed, who accommodated, who fit into the Persian Empire? There were many who did. Esther tells you that side of the story. Focus back to Judah as people return from the exile and go back to Judah and rebuild the temple and so on. Most of the rest of the Bible is going to focus on that. Esther is special in that it focuses the secularized or paganized Jews. God’s call was to go back to Judah; go back, live there, rebuild, build the temple, worship there again and so on. That is the official call. Thousands did follow, but Esther tells you about those who did not.
B. Would God further punish His people?
It also answers the question, would God further punish His people? You have the exile and all of that. Is He going to do something beyond that? The answer is, no He is not. He will not let that happen because their punishment was plenty.
C. Accommodating pagan ways
It also describes accommodationism. These are Judeans, these are not Jews, you have to be very careful. Esther is less than ethical about many things. For example, she gets to be queen by trying out as one of the one-night stands of the king. What King Xerxes did was to have a new woman come in every night to his bedroom and if he liked her he might keep her around for awhile, if he did not he would send her off to be a palace worker; she would be one of the servants in the palace. Esther is very eager to please the king so she asks, “What can I do? What’s the tricks? What does he like?” The harem keepers are only too happy to help her because that makes them look good. She pleases the king very much and eventually gets to be queen through a series of circumstances that the storyline describes for you pretty well. But, this is not some specially godly desire on her part; to be a Persian queen, married to a non-Jew, administrating things, yet God does use her in a good way.
D. No mention of God
Interestingly, the book does not even mention God. No mention of Yahweh, no mention of Elohim, or any of the other names for God. That is usually purposeful. When you get that kind of thing in a narrative anywhere, it is usually because you are in a secular setting and the people there are nonbelievers. It is a part of style that Moses used already back in Genesis. If you do not have any mention of any name of God, you also are implicitly being told that this was a secular context. These are Jews ethically now, but not religiously. That is important.
E. Not cited in New Testament
Esther is not cited in the New Testament, not because it is not a legitimate book but because it is not a book that tells you about how to have faith, it is a book that shows you God’s faithfulness in not further punishing His people but protecting them. Thus, the danger is exemplarism. You will say, “Oh well, I’m going to copy what is going on in Esther,” and that is not really what is going on.
F. Laws of the Medes and Persians
It also does demonstrate how you can get around the laws of the Medes and Persians. The Medes and Persians had this system that said law should be about people and you should not allow a king to change the law, otherwise, they will do whatever they want. So, laws once made could not be broken. But what Esther shows in the story is the fact that you can always figure out a counter law and pass that. In the story of Esther a character named Haman gets the king to believe that a good thing to do would be proclaim quietly and secretly that everybody throughout the Persian Empire had a legal right at a certain time to attack the Jews. How are you going to handle that? Once the king makes such a proclamation what is he going to do? He can make another proclamation privately and secretly that the Jews are ordered to be prepared for this, to know about it in advance, and to defend themselves. So when their anti-Semite neighbors come to kill them, the Jews are ready and waiting and they learn who their enemies are and they defend against them and it is total turning of the tables.
It provides freedom and stability for Jews because they eliminate their enemies. That is not a real peachy Christian message as you can guess, but it is a way of showing that God retains an interest in those people that He had already punished and His fairness will not allow them to be punished further.
After Esther, the story is going to focus back on Judah and on the Jews who really did believe that the faith direction is the direction of return to Judah and rebuilding and reestablishment of the covenant and of the sacrifices and the temple and so no. I think Esther is a very useful book; it helps you appreciate God’s actions, His steadiness, and His reliability. You just have to be awfully careful not to get a lot of religious guidance from Esther in that easy way you can get it from many other books. Statements made by people in other books will be right on target. You just have to be always much more cautious to realize that Esther and Mordecai are much more secularized; they are accommodationist Jews. If you see that it will still help you appreciate what is going on in the book.
VI. Second Part of Isaiah
Our last look is at the second part of Isaiah. Many of you know that in some circles this second part of Isaiah would simply be called 2 Isaiah. By that terminology people would mean a second author or group of authors writing long after the prophet who wrote the material in chapters 1-33. The person who wrote 1-33, of course, was prophesying in the late eighth-century BC. This prophet was prophesying during the middle of the sixth-century BC so he is one hundred and eighty years later or so. That is only one view so I am certainly not going to use that terminology. I am going to say instead that we do have another bifid book. We have the Book of Isaiah organized with the material that relates directly to that early period, the eight-century BC in one half, and then a nice dividing chunk, as we talked about before in the biographical material that involves Isaiah, taken from 2 Kings. Then we have the chunk that reflects what he preached about the exile and the period after the exile. Isaiah covered a lot of territory, a huge book, all these different time foci and it is grouped by foci—by what it focuses on.
1. Hope during and after the exile. If you use that terminology of woe and weal which has been popular to use among scholars, this is the weal portion of much of the book.
2. It really picks up with chapter 40; 36-39 is the biographical part from 2 Kings and then 40 comes. 40-48 have the big theme of deliverance out of captivity. The exile is coming to an end, get out, and go back to Judah.
3. Chapters 49-55: the Messiah. It focuses on God’s Messiah and His redemption. How He pays the price so we can be right with God again.
4. Then 56-66 have great emphasis on Zion as the home of the redeemed.
Out of this comes a term that is sometimes used, Zionism. Today Zionism often refers to modern Jews in the modern world feeling the call to become citizens of Israel. Actually, if you are a Jew, migrate to Israel, live and help out that in country, then you are the modern definition of zionism. Biblical Zionism is just a way of talking about this strong emphasis on the Jews who settled in as Jeremiah had told them; buy houses, live there; plant fields, grow fields; get married. You have got to remember it is going to be a whole seventy-year exile. Many had taken that so seriously and done it so well that they were right at home. When the Persians took over from the Babylonians, they were fairly nice emperors. It was not a bad empire. Many people could say, “You know, we are doing quite well. Yes we are not independent, and yes the Persians are the ones finally and ultimately in control but gee, the roads are good, the mail is good.” The Persians had an actual pony express system; an excellent mail system. There was a lot of prosperity for many Jews. They were hardworking and industrious and they did well. If you have a nice house and good farmlands somewhere in Mesopotamia, and your children have grown up there, they speak Aramaic, and they have friends, it is not going to be easy to go back to little Judah which is poor, empty, and the city is in ruins. Jerusalem was in ruins for a hundred years later. When Nehemiah comes back, the whole city is still in ruins. There is not much to go back to. It is going to be hard; you are going to have to try to build up a livelihood, all those years you have put into your fields in Mesopotamia are gone, you have got to sell those and go back. Not a lot of people wanted to do that.
So Isaiah is inspired by God just to hammer away and say, “You belong back in Judah. You belong back so you can worship at Mount Zion. That is where I want you to go; that is the focal point.” It is answering the question—what do you do now that the exile is over? It is clear what Isaiah says, “You are delivered from captivity, the Messiah is going to redeem you for all time, not just now. For now your call by God is to return home.” Can there be hope for those whom God had so severely punished? Yes, it is a glorious hope and a wonderful future. That is what Isaiah is doing. A lot of positive, warm, encouraging, glorious, and grand themes in the book.
C. Reverse of the exile / reverse of the curse
What is the expectation? The expectation is the reverse of the exile. When Isaiah originally predicted it in 720 BC, they did not even have an exile yet. They had had during part of his lifetime the exile of the north that occurred but not the exile of the south. So he is predicting that all of these things will eventually take place. The reverse of the curse. Also, he specifically talks about the Persians and about King Cyrus. It requires great faith though when he says it because it is way in advance even of the exile, let along the return. But Israel just has to get right with God, has to leave the land of captivity, and has to return to help rebuild Judah.
D. Comfort was there, salvation was not
What did many Jews do? Nothing, they stayed where they were. Comfort was theirs, but eternal salvation was not. You can preach that to people; there is a lot of parallels here. Many people are perfectly comfortable and they will be comfortable most of their life. They will die comfortably with plenty of Morphine to take away the pain. So comfort is available in modern times just as it was for many, many Jews in the Persian Empire but that is different from salvation. That is what Isaiah is trying to say. “Yes, it may be harder. Yes, it may be more challenging. Yes, it may involve difficulties. Yes, it is a long way to go. Yes, there is all these barriers to doing it but the will of God is to come home. Quite a contrast and great stuff there in the second part of Isaiah.
E. New Israel
You already see increasingly in Isaiah what Paul will pick up in a great way. You see the term Israel being broadened, the Israel of God, some of those concepts are there already in the second part of Isaiah. What is Israel? Who is His people? It is not everybody who is ethnically an Israelite; it is those who believe and respond in faith and come back to Orthodox worship. It is not just anybody who has the genes that cause him to be able to say, “I’m descended from Abraham.”
F. New creation
In addition, you have a great emphasis on the New Creation. A lot of New Creation language in the second part of Isaiah. So the theme of the New Creation that Paul and others bring up is not something that springs new with them; they are following the lead of what God already inspired through Isaiah.
G. Servant songs
Then the servant songs in chapters 42053 are a wonderful. By the way, if you look carefully, the servant really is a Moses figure. Themes like identifying with the people and exodus and all that. Those themes are there. Christ is the new Moses. He is a lot of things. He is the new Israel. He is the new Jacob. Christ is the new David. But among other things, he is the new Moses. Christ does a lot of things all at once. Thus, the suffering servant leads God’s people as Moses did, as Christ did. They are His body. That is not nearly as clearly played out in the Moses’ stories in say Exodus through Deuteronomy as you have it in Christ, but Moses is the representative of the people and so he suffers when they suffer. He does not say, “Well, that is your problem.” No, he always gets what they get. That is part of Moses’ involvement with the people, and you see that theme in the second part of Isaiah. He is their head; he suffers for them and Moses has some of that. He does not enter the Promise Land; they do. He is also vindicated by God on their behalf because of his faithfulness. These themes that are thin and partial in Moses, of course, and are full-blown and beautiful and complete in Christ. I do not mean to say that Christ is just anything; He is not just anything, but He is the ultimate fulfillment of some of the things that Moses is in on in this Moses language of the servant of God.