DANIEL AND ESTHER
We have now made mention of all the books of the Old Testament connected with events preceding the Babylonian exile. We come next to the two books concerned exclusively with events which occurred in the exile, the books of Daniel and Esther.
This book, as also the experiences of Daniel himself spans the whole period of the captivity of Judah; for it begins in the third year of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, eight years before the captivity of Jehoiachin (i: 1), and it ends in the third year of Cyrus, king of Persia, two years after the captivity of Judah ended (x: 1; Ezra 1: 1-3). It indirectly represents itself as having been written by Daniel; for although he is spoken of in the first six chapters in the third person, as was common in historical narration, he speaks in the first person in the other six. He was connected with the royal family of Judah (i: 3), and it is probable that he and his companions were taken to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar as hostages for the good conduct of Jehoiakim who was tributary to the Babylonians. He saw the beginning and the end of the Babylonian Empire, and he was more or less connected with the palace through the whole period.
The events recorded in the first six chapters were evidently intended by the Lord for two distinct purposes: first, to keep the captive Jews from losing their faith in Jehovah; and second, to make the power and majesty of Jehovah known to the heathen population of the Babylonian Empire. The Jews must have been strongly tempted, when they saw the Holy City and God's holy temple in ruins, and themselves transported into a foreign land by a heathen nation, to think either that Jehovah had abandoned them in violation of many promises made to their fathers, or that he was not able to cope with the gods of the great heathen empire. Either conclusion would cause them to fall in with the religion of their conquerors, and thus to forfeit all the good things which Jehovah had promised them. On the other hand, the conquerors, ascribing as they and all the heathen nations did, their victories to the superior power of the gods they worshipped, unavoidably reached the conclusion that their gods were far more powerful than Jehovah. But this false reasoning was corrected by the series of occurrences which are here recorded.
The other six chapters of Daniel, all prophetic, made many clear revelations of the destiny provided for Israel; and, although some of them were obscure then, and are more or less so to this day, others were almost as intelligible as history, and proved a great source of comfort and encouragement to the Jews in the fierce conflicts through which they passed between the exile and the coming of Christ.
The events recorded in this book took place in the reign of Ahasuerus, otherwise called Xerxes. His Persian name, spelled in English letters, reads thus: Khshayarsha. The Greeks, in trying to render it into their language, got it Xerxes; and the Hebrews, Ahasuerus. The latter comes nearer the original, but European nations have adopted in common usage the Greek rendering. This king began to reign about fifty years after the decree of Cyrus permitting the Jews to return to their own land, and consequently, the events of the book, though they belong to the history of the Jews in exile, occurred between fifty and sixty years after the close of the seventy years predicted by Jeremiah. In other words, they occurred among those Jews who chose, after the proclamation of Cyrus, to remain in foreign lands.
The book gives an account of a crisis in the history of the Jewish people. A decree was sent forth by the king that every Jew in his kingdom should be put to death on a certain day. The circumstance which led to the issuing of this decree, and the measures by which the calamity was averted, constitute the subject matter of the book, and they present a most remarkable series of divine providences. In Esther, the name of God is not once mentioned. The reader is left to discover God's hand for himself.
1. In addition to the books here named as belonging to the Exile Period, it will be remembered that portions of Jeremiah and Ezekiel came from the years of the captivity, and the whole of Isaiah chapter 40 to 76 deals with this situation.
Questions on Chapter 11
1. What is meant by the exile?
2. Who was Daniel?
3. How did he come to be in Babylon?
4. What are the leading events recorded in the book?
5. What was the purpose of their narration?
6. With what events does the book of Esther deal?
7. What are its leading characters?
8. What was probably the purpose?
9. What other literary materials belong to the same period?