The Priestly Theocracy #4
King Solomon who was not well disciplined, nor did he discipline his successor Rehoboam; nevertheless, he left this nugget of wisdom for posterity, “My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline or be weary of his reproof, for the Lord reproves him whom he loves, as a father the son in whom he delights” (Proverbs 3:11-12).
The writer to the Hebrews regarded discipline as the best proof that one is being loved by an earthly father, even more so by our heavenly Father.
It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons; for what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this we have had earthly fathers to discipline us and we respect them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time at their pleasure, but he disciplined us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant; later it yields the perfect fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it (Hebrews 12:7-11).
King Belshazzar paid no attention or he may have not been disciplined by his father Nebuchadnezzar. On his crowning as the ruler over Babylon, the very first thing he did was he held a huge banquet for a thousand of his nobles. He defiled the holy Jewish gold and silver goblets, which his father had brought from Jerusalem. Nebuchadnezzar had put these holy Jewish goblets in his temple because they were not to be touched by his subjects. It was while they drank from these holy Jewish goblets that a writing appeared on the wall.
Immediately the fingers of a man’s hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace, opposite the lampstand; and the king saw the hand as it wrote. Then the king’s color changed, and his thoughts alarmed him; his limbs gave way, and his knees knocked together. The king cried aloud to bring in the enchanters, the Chaldeans, and the astrologers. The king said to the wise men of Babylon, “Whoever reads this writing, and shows me its interpretation, shall be clothed with purple, and have a chain of gold about his neck, and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom.” Then all the king’s wise men came in, but they could not read the writing or make known to the king the interpretation. Then King Belshazzar was greatly alarmed, and his color changed; and his lords were perplexed (Daniel 5:5-9).
It was even more incomprehensive that Belshazzar knew nothing about the famous Daniel, in whom his father had such an enormous confidence. It was his queen that knew of Daniel and calmed her husband’s nerves. The queen had Daniel brought in to explain the message:
The queen, because of the words of the king and his lords, came into the banqueting hall; and the queen said, “O king, live for ever! Let not your thoughts alarm you or your color change. There is in your kingdom a man in whom is the spirit of the holy gods. In the days of your father light and understanding and wisdom, like the wisdom of the gods, were found in him, and King Nebuchadnezzar, your father, made him chief of magicians, enchanters, Chaldeans, and astrologers, because an excellent spirit, knowledge, and understanding to interpret dreams, explain riddles, and solve problems were found in this Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar. Now let Daniel be called, and he will show the interpretation (Daniel 5:10-12).
Then Daniel answered before the king, “Let your gifts be for yourself, and give your rewards to another; nevertheless I will read the writing to the king and make known to him the interpretation. O king, the Most High God gave Nebuchadnezzar your father kingship and greatness and glory and majesty; and because of the greatness that he gave him, all peoples, nations, and languages trembled and feared before him; whom he would he slew; and whom he would he kept alive; whom he would he raised up, and whom he would he put down. But when his heart was lifted his spirit was hardened so that he dealt proudly, he was deposed from his kingly throne, and his glory was taken from him; he was driven from among men, and his mind was made like that of a beast, and his dwelling was with the wild asses; he was fed grass like an ox, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, until he knew that the Most High God rules the kingdom of men, and sets over it who he will. And you his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, though you knew all this, but you have lifted up yourself against the LORD of heaven; and the vessels of his house have been brought in before you and your lords, your wives, and your concubines have drunk wine from them; and you have praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood, and stone, which do not see or hear or know, but the God in whose hand is your breath, and whose are all your ways, you have not honored.
Then from his presence the hand was sent, and this writing was inscribed. And this is the writing that was inscribed: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, and PARSIN. This is the interpretation of the matter: MENE, God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end; TEKEL, you have been weighed in the balances and found wanting; PERES, your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.”
Then Belshazzar commanded Daniel was clothed with purple, a chain of gold was put about his neck, and proclamation was made concerning him, that he should be the third ruler in the kingdom. That very night Belshazzar the Chaldean king was slain. And Darius the Mede received the kingdom, being about sixty-two years old (Daniel 5:17-30).
The disposal of Belshazzar and the takeover of Darius hint at a plot to dispose of Daniel. Nebuchadnezzar was in command of the nobles, over whom Daniel was elevated as counselor to the king. There was no army leading the attack on Belshazzar, or any fear of an invasion. He is simply killed and Darius is put in his place. And Darius behaved as if some one else was leading him. Darius sets his nobles over one hundred-twenty districts and three presidents and he appointed Daniel as one of the presidents. Then, Darius turned himself into a god. He made an image of himself and commanded that everyone pay homage to the king. Daniel, of course, would not bow to Darius and the king was obligated to fulfill his royal decree. Daniel was put in the lion’s den. They elevated Daniel so that he was hated by the nobles. These nobles turned Daniel into an enemy of the king. Everything worked in favor of Daniel’s enemies. Daniel trusted in Yahweh; therefore for dishonoring Daniel, it also was an attempt to dishonor God. Meanwhile, Darius grew very fond of this loyal and trustworthy Jew and Daniel began to act as the monarch. When Darius had to put Daniel in the lion’s den, the plot to trick him into destroying Daniel made him an advocate of Daniel’s God and an adversary of his enemies. Daniel also represented the remnant God needed to bring His kind of a Kingdom into the world, that the enemies of the Jews sought to destroy. The text in Daniel speaks for itself:
It pleased Darius to set over the kingdom a hundred and twenty satraps, throughout the whole kingdom; and over them three presidents, of whom Daniel was one, to whom these satraps should give account, so that the king might suffer no loss. Then this Daniel became distinguished above all the other presidents and satraps, because an excellent spirit was in him; and the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom. Then the presidents and the satraps sought to find a ground for complaint against Daniel with regard to the kingdom; but they could find no ground for complaint or any fault, because he was faithful, and no error or fault was found in him. Then these men said, “We shall not find any ground for complaint against this Daniel unless we find it in connection with the law of his God.”
Then these presidents and satraps came by agreement to the king and said to him, “O King Darius, live for ever! And the presidents of the kingdom, the prefects and the satraps, the counselors and the governors are agreed that the king should establish an ordinance and enforce an interdict, that whoever makes petition to any god or man for thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions. Now, O king, establish the interdict and sign the document, so that it cannot be changed, according to the law of the Medes and the Persians, which cannot be revoked.” Therefore King Darius signed the document and interdict.
When Daniel knew that the document had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem; and he got down upon his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously. Then these men came by agreement and found Daniel making petition and supplication before his God. Then they came near and said before the king, concerning the interdict, “O king! Did you not sign an interdict, that any man who makes petition to any god or man within thirty days except to you, O king, shall be cast into the den of lions?” The king answered, “The thing stands fast, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be revoked.” Then they answered before the king, “That Daniel, who is one of the exiles from Judah, pay no heed to you, O king, or the interdict you have signed, but makes his petition three times a day.”
Then the king, when he heard these words, was much distressed, and set his mind to deliver Daniel; and he labored till the sun went down to rescue him. Then these men came by agreement to the king, and said to the king, “Know, O king, that it is a law of the Medes and Persians that no interdict or ordinance which the king establishes can be changed.”
Then the king commanded, and Daniel was brought and cast into the den of lions. The king said to Daniel, “May your God, whom you serve continually, deliver you!” And a stone was brought and laid upon the mouth of the den, and the king sealed it with his own signet and with the signet of his lords, that nothing might be changed concerning Daniel. Then the king went to his palace, and spent the night fasting; no diversions were brought to him, and sleep fled from him.
Then, at break of day, the king arose and went in haste to the den of lions. When he came near to the den where Daniel was, he cried out in a tone of anguish and said to Daniel, “O Daniel, servant of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually, been able to deliver you from the lions?” Then Daniel said to the king, “O king, live for ever! My God sent his angel and shut the lions’ mouths, and they have not hurt me, because I was found blameless before him; and also before you, O king, I have done no wrong.” Then the king was exceedingly glad, and commanded that Daniel be taken up out of the den. So Daniel was taken up out of the den, and no kind of hurt was found upon him, because he had trusted in his God. And the king commanded, and those men who had accused Daniel were brought and cast into the den of lions—they, their children, and their wives; and before they reached the bottom of the den the lions overpowered them and broke all their bones in pieces. Then King Darius wrote to all the peoples, nations, and languages that dwell in all the earth: “Peace be multiplied to you. I make a decree, that in all my royal dominion men tremble and fear before the God of Daniel, for he is the living God, enduring for ever; his kingdom shall never be destroyed, and his dominion shall be to the end. He delivers and rescues, he works signs and wonders in heaven and on earth, he who has saved Daniel from the power of the lions.” So this Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius and the reign of Cyrus the Persian (Daniel 6:1-28).
The Meds and the Persians were like twins and the transfer to Cyrus the Persian was peaceful. Cyrus was the man who authorized the return of the Jewish exiles and the rebuilding the temple of Yahweh in Jerusalem. The movement to return to Judea was facilitated by Jeremiah, brought into action by Cyrus, and carried out by the prince of Judah, who was named by the Babylonians Sheshbazzar, and by Ezra, Jeshua, Nehemiah, Zerubbabel, and others like Mordecai. These were Levitical isolationists, separatists like Daniel and his three friends: Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. These Levites were priests and temple keepers and servants who did not assimilate into Babylonianism as Jeremiah had ordered. And they returned with the objective to restore a Levitical separatist society. In spite of their religious difference, these men gained esteem and respect through their loyal and faithful services to their kings. Cyrus authorized their return in writing and endowed them with financing and protection. It also is a fact, that the king ordered these people to leave just to get their moaning and groaning out of his hair:
In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be accomplished, 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:
“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. 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; 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 which is in Jerusalem.”
Then rose up the heads of the fathers’ house 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 which is in Jerusalem; 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. Cyrus the king also brought out the vessels of the house of the LORD which Nebuchadnezzar had carried away from Jerusalem and placed in the house of his gods. Cyrus king of Persia brought these out in charge of Mithredath the treasurer, who counted them out to Sheshbazzar the prince of Judah. And this was the number of them: a thousand basins of gold, a thousand basins of silver, twenty-nine censers, thirty bowls of gold, two thousand four hundred and ten bowls of silver, and a thousand other vessels; all the vessels of gold and of silver were five thousand four hundred and sixty nine. All these did Sheshbazzar bring up, when the exiles were brought up from Babylon to Jerusalem (Ezra 1:1-11).
Who was this prince Sheshbazzar of Judah to whom mighty Cyrus entrusted the rebuilding of the house of the God, whom he and his predecessors learned to fear. It began when his father Jehoiachin, king of Judah surrendered to Nebuchadnezzar. His father and his family, along with his household, were taken to Babylon. Jehoiachin was incarcerated and the family along with all the other royal captives were permitted to live in Nebuchadnezzar’s court. The Babylonian king was greatly interested in other cultures so that he could deal with the different customs and believes in his huge empire. In this setting two lads became friends: Evilmerodach, the son of Nebuchadnezzar and Sheshbazzar, son of Jehoiachin. It was Evilmerodach who set his father free and made him a member of his intimate family. The historian added this brief note to his history of the kings:
And in the thirty-seventh year of the exile of Jehoiachin king of Judah, in the twelfth month, on the twenty-seventh day of the month, Evilmerodach king of Babylon, in the year that he began to reign, graciously freed Jehoiachin king of Judah from prison; and he spoke kindly to him, and gave him a seat above the seats of the kings who were with him in Babylon. So Jehoiachin put off his prison garments. And every day of his life he dined regularly at the king’s table; and for his allowance, a regular allowance was given to him by the king, every day a portion, as long as he lived (II Kings 25:27-30).
The writer of Ezra appears to have been also the reporter of Second Chronicles 36:20-23. The captivity was to last seventy years for the land to have its rest and be ready for the remnant to return and to rebuilt the house of David under Levitical guidance, reinstating the rituals and the sacrifices instituted by Moses. The Persians would be the initiators of the restoration of the original “Theocratic and Levitical System”:
He took into exile in Babylon those who had escaped from the sword, and they became servants to him and to his sons until the establishment of the kingdom of Persia, to fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah, until the land had enjoyed its sabbaths. All the days that it lay desolate it kept sabbath, to fulfill seventy years.
Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the LORD by the mouth of Jeremiah might be accomplished, 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: “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. Whoever is among you of all his people, may the LORD his God be with him. Let him go up’” (II Chronicles 36:20-23).
Sheshbazzar, the prince of Judah, simply disappeared from taking part in the rebuilding of the house of Yahweh. He may have been at odds with the priest’s objective and returned to Persia. It is not likely that anyone would have dared to harm him without facing serious reprecaution from his friend Cyrus. Also it was not the time for another Davidic Monarchy. The priests were more in favor of restoring their old time religion of Moses or the Levitical rituals and sacrifices. Zerubbabel became the governor and endorsed the priestly endeavor. First, they dismissed all those whose records were no longer available from the priesthood (Ezra 2:62). Then they began to build an altar to God. And they brought back the feasts, the offerings, and the sacrifices. When the people, who hoped for another David did not rally to their support, the priests included in their program the praise of David. Their separatist behavior did not appeal to those who were not exiled and the restoration did suffer delay and opposition.
Then rose Jeshua the son of Jozadak, with his fellow priests, and Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel with his kinsmen, and they built the altar of the God of Israel, to offer burnt offerings upon it, as it is written in the law of Moses the man of God. They set the altar in its place, for fear was upon them because of the peoples of the lands, and they offered burned offerings morning and evening. And they kept the feast of booths, as it is written, and offered the daily burnt offerings by number according to the ordinance, as each day required, and after that the continual burnt offerings, the offerings at the new moon and at all the appointed feasts of the LORD, and the offerings of every one who made a freewill offering to the LORD. From the first day of the seventh month they began to offer burnt offerings to the LORD. But the foundation of the temple of the LORD was not yet laid. So they gave money to the masons and the carpenters, and food, drink, and oil to the Sidonians and the Tyrians to bring cedar trees from Lebanon to the sea, to Joppa, according to the grant which they had from Cyrus king of Persia.
Now in the second year of their coming to the house of God at Jerusalem, in the second month, Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel and Jeshua the son of Jozadak made a beginning, together with the rest of their brethren, the priests and the Levites and all who had come to Jerusalem from the captivity. They appointed the Levites, from twenty years old and upward, to have the oversight of the work of the house of the LORD. And Jeshua with his sons and his kinsmen, and Kadmiel and his sons, the sons of Judah, together took the oversight of the workmen in the house of God, along with the sons of Hanadad and the Levites, their sons and kinsmen.
And when the builders laid the foundation of the temple of the LORD, the priests in their vestments came forward with trumpets, and the Levites, the sons of Asaph, with cymbals, to praise the LORD, according to the directions of David king of Israel; and they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the LORD, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures for ever toward Israel.” And all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid. But many of the priests and Levites and heads of fathers’ houses, old men who had seen the first house, wept with a loud voice when they saw the foundation of this house being laid, though many shouted aloud for joy; so that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping, for the people shouted with a great shout, and the wound was heard afar (Ezra 3:2-13).
The Jews and Benjamites who were not exiled petitioned Zerubbabel and his associates to join in the restoration and rebuilding of the temple and the city, but they were turned down as being unfit to participate in their Levitical puritan theocracy. The natives then interfered with the Levitical purpose to re-establish their Mosaic religion for more than twenty years. But when the returning exiles persisted in their endeavor, the opposition requested of king Artaxerxes, the fourth king since the return of the exiles, to search the records of the rebellious Jews and stop their progress. The ill informed king, responded favorably to their demands.
Now when the adversaries of Judah and Benjamin heard that the returned exiles were building a temple to the Lord, the God of Israel, they approached Zerubbabel and the heads of fathers’ houses and said to them, “Let us build with you; for we worship your God as you do, and we have been sacrificing to him ever since the day of Esarhaddon king of Assyria who brought us here.” But Zerubbabel, Jeshua, and the rest of the hearts of fathers’ houses in Israel said to them, “You have nothing to do with us in building a house to our God; but we alone will build to the LORD, the God of Israel, as King Cyrus the king of Persia has commanded us.”
Then the people of the land discouraged the people of Judah, and made them afraid to build, and hired counselors against them to frustrate their purpose, all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia. And in the reign of Ahasuerus, in the beginning of his reign, they wrote an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem (Ezra 4:1-6).
And now this copy of the letter that they sent—“To Artaxerxes the king: Your servants, the men of the province Beyond the River, send greeting. And now be it known to the king that the Jews who came up from you to us have gone to Jerusalem. They are rebuilding that rebellious and wicked city; they are finishing the walls and repairing the foundations. Now be it known to the king that, if this city is rebuilt and the walls finished, they will not pay tribute, custom, or toll, and the royal revenue will be impaired. Now because we eat salt of the palace and it is not fitting for us to witness the king’s dishonor, therefore we send and inform the king, in order that search may be made in the book of the records of your fathers. You will find in the book of the records and learn that this city is a rebellious city, hurtful to kings and provinces, and that sedition was stirred up in it from of old. That was why this city was laid waste. We make known to the king that, if this city is rebuilt and its walls finished, you will then have no possession in the province Beyond the River”
Then, when the copy of King Artaxerxes’ letter was read before Rehum and Shimshai the scribe and their associates, then went in haste to the Jews at Jerusalem and by force and power made them cease. Then the work on the house of God which is in Jerusalem stopped; and it ceased until the second year of the reign of Darius king of Persia (Ezra 4:23-24).
The returning exiles did not obey Artaxerxes’ Letter and requested King Cyrus’ records be researched, and their request was granted. The decision of Darius, the next Persian King, continues in the next chapter.