Old Testament Lesson 45 (Daniel 1; 3; 6; Esther 3-5; 7-8)

THE PROPHET DANIEL

Ezekiel compared Daniel’s faith to that of both Noah and Job (Ezekiel 14:14, 20). Paul said that, through his faith, Daniel “subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, [and] stopped the mouths of lions” (Hebrews 11:33). The story of Daniel, with his gift of interpreting dreams, and his rise to leadership in a foreign nation, is similar to the story of Joseph of Egypt (Genesis 39–41).

● Because of his righteousness and sensitivity to the Spirit, Daniel was greatly favored of God.
— He was given the gift of interpreting dreams and visions, bringing him to the king’s attention.
— He was raised to positions that enabled him to spend his life in service to the kings.
— He became the Lord’s minister to those rulers.
— He was made chief of the wise men.
— He was made chancellor of the equivalent of a national university.
— He was made ruler of all the Hebrew captives.
— As governor of the province of Babylon, he was one of the chief rulers in both the Babylonian and Persian empires

Daniel served seven kings: Nebuchadnezzar, Evil-merodach, Neriglissor, Labashi-Marduk, Nabonidus, Belshazzar, Cyrus, and Darius. Daniel remained in Babylon with many other Jews when most of them returned to Jerusalem. He lived 80 years (Daniel 1:21), so he would have been 10 or less when taken captive. Though at times his life was endangered because of the jealousy of evil men, yet he lived so perfectly that the Lord continually protected and preserved him.

How Daniel Ended up in Babylon (Daniel 1:1–4)

● “Children” (vv. 3–4) could have been translated “youth” or “young men.” Some of the young men who were taken captive were of royal bloodlines (“of the king’s seed”). Whether or not Daniel was of royal blood is not known; his genealogy is not given.

● Daniel and his friends were among the first group of Jews carried captive into Babylon about 605 BC—20 years before the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar in the eleventh year of the reign of Zedekiah.

● Shinar is the plain in the lower delta of the Tigris and the Euphrates rivers near the Persian Gulf. It was the ancient land of Chaldea, or Babylonia.

DANIEL AND KING NEBUCHADNEZZAR

Daniel and His Friends’ Diets

● Daniel and his companions were selected for service in the court of Nebuchadnezzar (Daniel 1:4–7). Certain young men of royal lineage who showed promise were invited to participate in the king’s school for a three-year period. They were trained for service at the court and learned the language of the Babylonians. Among those selected for this honor were Daniel and three other young Jewish men.

— All four of them received new names in Babylon: (vv. 6–7)

Previous Name: New Name in Babylon:
Daniel (“God is my judge”) Belteshazzar (“O protect his life”)
Hananiah (“Jehovah is gracious”) Shadrach (meaning uncertain)
Mishael (“Who is what God is?”) Meshach (meaning uncertain)
Azariah (“God is my help”) Abednego (“a servant of Nego”).

● They were blessed for refusing to partake of food forbidden by the Lord (Daniel 1:8–21). The term meat refers to the food on the king’s table (v. 8). They refused it because:

— Some foods used by the Babylonians were forbidden in the Mosaic law.
— Babylonians often ate beasts that had not been properly drained of blood.
— They consecrated food at their feasts by offering up part of it to their gods.
— Jews considered food contaminated and unclean if it was prepared by anyone considered unclean, such as the heathens.
— The last part of this verse could have been translated: “For why should he see your faces worse looking than the boys who are of your age? Then you would forfeit my head to the king” (v. 10).
— Pulse is seeds and grains such as peas, wheat, barley, and rye (vv. 12–16).
— Because of their obedience, God gave them knowledge and understanding (vv. 17–21). Daniel also “had understanding in all visions and dreams.”

● The similar blessings of living the Word of Wisdom today (D&C 89:18–21): “wisdom and great treasures of knowledge, even hidden treasures” (v. 19).

— Elder Boyd K. Packer said: “I have come to know . . . that a fundamental purpose of the Word of Wisdom has to do with revelation. From the time you are very little we teach you to avoid tea, coffee, liquor, tobacco, narcotics, and anything else that disturbs your health. . . . If someone ‘under the influence’ can hardly listen to plain talk, how can they respond to spiritual promptings that touch their most delicate feelings? As valuable as the Word of Wisdom is as a law of health, it may be much more valuable to you spiritually than it is physically.”1

Daniel’s Friends in the Fiery Furnace

● Nebuchadnezzar commanded everybody to worship his idols (Daniel 3:1–12).

— The golden image was ninety feet high and nine feet wide (v. 1).

● Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refused to do so (Daniel 3:13–18).

— Elder Neal A. Maxwell said: “We will [not] always be rescued from proximate problems, but we will be rescued from everlasting death! Meanwhile, ultimate hope makes it possible to say the same three words used centuries ago by three valiant men. They knew God could rescue them from the fiery furnace if He chose. ‘But if not,’ they said, nevertheless, they would still serve Him!”2

● They were cast into a fiery furnace (Daniel 3:19–23).
— “Seven times more” is an idiom meaning “much hotter than usual” (v. 19).

● They were protected by the Lord and are not consumed by the fire (Daniel 3:24–30).

DANIEL AND KING DARIUS OF PERSIA

Daniel in the Lion’s Den

● King Darius recognized Daniel’s greatness and promoted him (Daniel 6:1–3).

● Daniel’s jealous enemies sought to entrap and kill him (Daniel 6:4–9). They persuaded the king to sign a decree that for 30 days all petitions must be directed to him rather than to any other man or to God. Those who disobeyed the decree would be thrown into a den of lions.

● Daniel’s response was to pray (Daniel 6:10–11). Those who are righteous do not fear men. Daniel refused to follow the abominable decree and sought his God in prayer.

— President Spencer W. Kimball: “This unalterable law of the Medes and Persians would have been terrifying to any man, but the faithful Daniel did not flinch. Was there any question what he should do? He could save his life by abandoning his prayers to the Living God. What was he to do? A man of integrity could not fail. Daniel was the soul of integrity.”3

● Daniel was cast into the lion’s den (Daniel 6:12–17). Disappointed, Darius sought a way to deliver Daniel but was not successful.

● Darius fasted for David throughout the night, and was the first one at the lions’ den the next morning. Daniel had remained unharmed (Daniel 6:18–25).

● The king killed Daniel’s enemies and declared Daniel’s God to his people as the true and living God (Daniel 6:26–28).

— In accepting “the God of Daniel” as one of the gods acceptable to the Babylonians, Darius was not converting to Jehovah, but merely accepting him as the “supreme” god among many (v. 6).

ESTHER SAVES HER PEOPLE FROM DESTRUCTION

The Historical Setting of Esther

Ancient Persia existed in the area of modern-day Iran. The Persians under Darius conquered all the way up to the Danube River in Europe, but were finally turned back when the Greeks defeated Darius at Marathon in 490 BC. The reign of Darius came to an end around 486 BC.

Four years later when Darius died he was succeeded by Xerxes (pronounced ZURK-seez), a young son of Darius who was appointed before his father’s death. He reigned for 21 years and is believed by authorities to be identical with Ashasuerus of the Bible; Xerxes is the name given to him by Greek historians. He practically exhausted his empire trying to defeat the Greeks and avenge the disgrace at Marathon, but he only added three more defeats.

Nevertheless, the grandeur of the rest of the empire remained from Asia Minor to India. The center of all its glory was at Susa (Shushan), about 150 miles north of the Persian Gulf, in a mountainous region east of the Tigris river. This had been the home of Daniel the latter part of his life and was the setting for the events of Esther.

The Story of Esther

The story of Esther is sacred to the Jews. There are more existing manuscripts of Esther among the Jews than of any other Old Testament book.

Maimonides, the great medieval Jewish philosopher (AD 1135–1204), ranked Esther just after the Pentateuch in value. On the other hand, it is the only Old Testament book that was not found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. Martin Luther, the Protestant Reformer, suggested that there would be no loss if Esther did not exist.

Her story is compelling because of her dauntless defense of her convictions and her people. Her name, in the Persian tongue, means “a star,” which seems appropriate considering her story. She was born to Mordecai’s brother and named Hadassah, which means “myrtle” in Hebrew. Throughout the Bible, however, she is referred to by her Persian name, Esther, which means “star.” When her parents died, Mordecai adopted her and raised her in his home.

Most scholars place the events of Esther between about 482 BC and 478 BC. The Jewish feast of Purim arises from the story in the book of Esther of the Jews’ victory in Persia. Attempts to find an explanation for Purim other than this have provided no clear alternative.

Haman’s Arrogance and Jealousy

● Mordecai uncovered a plot by the king’s bodyguards to kill him. He informed the King through Esther, and the plotters are hanged (Esther 2:21–23).

● Haman, angered by Mordecai’s refusal to bow to him, sought to kill all Jews (Esther 3:1–7).
— King Ahasuerus promoted Haman to be his highest-ranking officer.
— Haman demanded not mere allegiance from people, but worship.
— Mordecai claimed exemption on the ground that he was a Jew.
— Since no faithful Jew would worship him, Haman sought to kill them all.
— This is one of the earliest known examples of anti-semitism.

— Nisan is our March-April, and “Pur” means “lot” (v. 7). They cast lots to find a day when Haman’s plot would take effect. Fortunately, the 13th–14th of Adar was eleven months away.

● Haman persuaded the king to order the annihilation of the Jews by portraying them as rebellious and by promising the king that it would increase revenues (Esther 3:8–15).

Esther Was Foreordained to Save the Jews

● God placed Joseph in Egypt in order to protect and save Jacob’s family (Genesis 45:1–8).

● He did the same thing through Esther: (Esther 4)
— Jews had been scattered among 127 provinces of the Persian empire.
— Though they had been wicked, he would not permit them to be destroyed.
— Had Haman been successful, there would have been no return to Jerusalem
— The course of history would have been changed considerably.
— The Lord oversees people and events, and though men commit deeds of wickedness, they cannot alter his divine blueprint.

● When Esther heard mourning among the Jews, she asked Mordecai what was wrong (Esther 4:1–6).

● Mordecai asked Esther to reveal her ancestry and plead for the Jews before the king (Esther 4:7–9).

● It was dangerous for Esther to go in and speak with the king; the law allowed the king to kill anyone who approached him uninvited (Esther 4:10–12).

● Mordecai believed Esther had been raised up for this purpose (Esther 4:13–14).

— President Spencer W. Kimball quoted F. M. Bareham as saying: “We fancy God can manage His world only with great battalions, when all the time He is doing it with beautiful babies . . . When a wrong wants righting, or a truth wants preaching, or a continent wants discovering, God sends a baby into the world to do it.”4

— Elder Bruce R. McConkie said: “We are quite well aware that Joseph Smith and Jeremiah and the Apostles and prophets, the wise, the great, and the good were foreordained to particular ministries. But that is only a part of the doctrine of foreordination. The great and glorious thing about foreordination is that the whole House of Israel was foreordained, that millions upon millions—comparatively few compared to the total preexistent host—but millions of people were foreordained.”5

— Elder Neal A. Maxwell said: “It does no violence even to our frail human logic to observe that there cannot be a grand plan of salvation for all mankind, unless there is also a plan for each individual. The salvational sum will reflect all its parts.”6

“If I Perish, I Perish”

● Esther resolved to do what was needed to save her people (Esther 4:15–17).

— Elder Henry B. Eyring said: “Tragedy, loss, and hurt often arrive unanticipated. How we react when we are surprised will tell our families whether what we have taught and testified lies deep in our hearts . . . When tragedy strikes or even when it looms, our families will have the opportunity to look into our hearts to see whether we know what we said we knew.”7

— President Lorenzo Snow said: “In many instances of a similar nature where the destruction of the people of God seemed imminent, and there appeared no way of escape, suddenly there arose something or another that had been prepared for their salvation to avert the impending destruction. . . . So it has been and so it ever will be with us. Notwithstanding our difficulties may appear very great, yet there will be means provided for our escape if we ourselves perform the duties incumbent upon us as the children of God. But it may become necessary in the future . . . for some of the Saints to act the part of Esther, the queen, and be willing to sacrifice anything and everything that is required at their hands for the purpose of working out the deliverance of the Latter-day Saints.”8

“Fast Ye for Me”

● Esther asked her maidens and the Jews to fast for her (Esther 4:16).

● Isaiah explained the elements and the benefits of a fast: (Isaiah 58:3–12)

— Fasting is a principle of the gospel of Jesus Christ and has always been a means of developing or enhancing spiritual sensitivity.

— Besides a voluntary abstinence from food and drink, a proper fast should include fervent prayer, contemplation, soul searching, and other activities that invite the Lord’s spirit.

— Fasting was important in Old Testament times as shown by these examples:
• Moses fasted on Mt (Exodus 34:28). Sinai while receiving the law.
• The children of Israel fasted before important battles (Judges 20:26).
• The children of Israel fasted as part of repentance (1 Samuel 7:6).
• The children of Israel fasted when their king was slain (1 Samuel 31:13).
• The children of Israel fasted again for their slain king (2 Samuel 1:12).
• David fasted while mourning for Abner (2 Samuel 3:35).
• David fasted and prayed for his enemies (Psalm 35:13–14).
• King Jehoshaphat fasted for protection from enemies (2 Chronicles 20:3).
• The city of Nineveh fasted for forgiveness of sins (Jonah 3:5).
• Isaiah describes the elements of a true fast (Isaiah 58:3–12).
• God ignored the fasting of the unrighteous Jews (Jeremiah 14:11–12).
• Daniel fasted and prayed for all Israel (Daniel 9:3).
• Ezra & Jews fasted for help returning to Jerusalem (Ezra 8:21–23).
• Joel called a fast in anticipation of the Day of the Lord (Joel 1:14).

— President Ezra Taft Benson said: “A certain kind of devil goes not out except by fasting and prayer, the scripture tells us. (Matt. 17:21). Periodic fasting can help clear up the mind and strengthen the body and the spirit. The usual fast, the one we are asked to participate in for fast Sunday, is for 24 hours without food or drink. Some people, feeling the need, have gone on longer fasts of abstaining from food but have taken the needed liquids. Wisdom should be used, and the fast should be broken with light eating. To make a fast most fruitful, it should be coupled with prayer and meditation; physical work should be held to a minimum, and it’s a blessing if one can ponder on the scriptures and the reason for the fast.”9

The Spirit’s Influence on Timing

● Esther approached the king, he received her and granted anything she requested (Esther 5:1–3).

● She requested that the king and Haman come to a banquet (Esther 5:4–8).
— Esther used her first banquet to enhance her good standing with the king.
— She requested their presence at a second banquet 24 hours later.
— Had she accused Haman directly her accusation might have been rejected.
— What happened during those 24 hours was of the greatest importance.

● Meanwhile, Haman, angered again by Mordecai, constructed a gallows, hoping to obtain permission from the king to hang Mordecai (Esther 5:9–14). The gallows was about 75 feet high—so everybody could see the hanging.

Esther’s Banquet

● At the banquet Esther told the king she was a Jew and also what Haman had done (Esther 7:1–6).

● The angered king orders Haman to be hanged on his own gallows (Esther 7:7–10).

— Haman “fell on Esther’s bed” (vv. 7–8). In the Middle East in ancient times, banquets were served to the guests as they reclined on pillows or couches. The Hebrew word translated in verse 8 as bed may have been a couch or a place of reclining.

— It seems likely that Haman rushed over to Esther at the banquet and fell on her couch to plead for his life. The king’s abrupt departure from the banquet may have been prompted by a desire to check Esther’s story with some of the other aides in the court. When the king returned to the banquet, he interpreted Haman’s position as a sexual advance and ordered his death.

— Thus, with no direct suggestion by Esther about what Haman’s punishment should be, circumstances brought about the swift execution of the man who could have proven, even after his fall from favor, to be a powerful enemy to the queen.

— We will fall into the pits we dig for others (Psalm 7:15–16).
— We will be judged in the same way we judge others (Matt. 7:2).
— The proud will be abased and the humble exalted (Matt. 23:12).

Esther and Mordecai’s Reward

● Esther was given the house of Haman (Esther 8:1).

● Mordecai was honored and placed over the house of Haman (Esther 8:2). Giving the ring to Mordecai made him an official representative of the king (Esther 3:10), second in authority to the king (Esther 10:3).

THE FINAL RESULTS

The Jews were Authorized to Defend Themselves

● The rule of “irreversible decree” prevented the king from changing his orders (Esther 8:3–8).

● A new decree was written, allowing the Jews to defend themselves with arms (Esther 8:9–14; Esther 8:15–17). Many people converted to Judaism to protect themselves from the Jews’ revenge.

Notes:

1.  In Conference Report, Oct. 1979, 28–29; or Ensign, Nov. 1979, 20.
2.  In Conference Report, Oct. 1994, 45; or Ensign, Nov. 1994, 35.
3.  Integrity, 17.
4.  Faith Precedes the Miracle [1972], 323.
5.  “Making Our Calling and Election Sure,” Brigham Young University Speeches of the Year, 25 Mar. 1969, 6.
6.  “A More Determined Discipleship,” Ensign, Feb. 1979, 71.
7.  Ensign, May 1996, 64.
8.  1882 General conference Address, in Journal of Discourses, 23:290, 293.
9.  In Conference Report, Oct. 1974, 92.

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