Daniel 1; 3; 6, Esther 3-5, 7-8
Esther, Daniel and his friends are all in exile. Daniel finds himself a talented foreigner being raised up to give counsel to the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar. Esther appears later, during the time of Ahasuerus (also known as Xerxes I). Maintaining their culture in a world of political intrigue, and where there are always others seeking power and prestige, becomes a strong lesson in faith for all in these stories.
The Word of Wisdom
Daniel refuses the king’s food
Under the Mosaic Law, there were specific provisions and rules made regarding food. Eating animals that had both a cloven hoof and chewed cud (cattle, sheep, goats) was authorized, but others were not. In Babylon, one of the main food sources was pork, considered an abomination for the Jews. One of the ways modern archaeologists can determine whether an ancient town in Palestine was Canaanite or Israelite, was by the number of pig bones found in their ancient garbage pits.
Daniel and his friends had a choice before them: follow God, or please the Babylonian king. Fortunately, he was able to put his faith to the test, by offering a deal to the Babylonian officer in charge of fattening up and preparing the young Israelite scholars. Instead of eating pork and other meats that were not prepared properly, Daniel and his friends would eat pulse, a vegetable soup. If in ten days they looked worse off than the others, they would obey the command of the king. Trusting in the Lord, they appeared more robust than those who ate fully from the king’s table.
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego with the Son of God
Ancient kings loved the concept of being divine. It was no different for Nebuchadnezzar, when an idol in his likeness was created, and those politicians wanting to make an impression on him, encouraged him to require all people to worship at his idol.
Again, we see a clear challenge to the Mosaic Law, this time to the 10 Commandments, where the chosen people of God were not to worship idols, nor bow down to them, putting these before God.
The three young men refused to worship the king’s idol, and were judged guilty of treason. The furnace prepared for them, so hot that it killed several men taking them to their execution, was obviously made as an example to all others. Yet again when the children of Israel stood for what was right, God brought forth a miracle and saved them from the fires. Nebuchadnezzar noted that while they tossed three into the fire, he could see them plus another that seemed to be like unto the Son of God.
Like Shadrach, Meshach and Abenego, we find in ancient tradition that Nimrod (who traditionally was both king of Babylon and Pharaoh of Egypt) attempted to slay Abraham in the same manner. Kerry Shirts notes:
It is Nimrod as Pharaoh who tries to kill or sacrifice Abraham by fire according to most ancient sources, entirely unavailable and unknown to Joseph Smith. Here is the Book of Abraham and Covenant of Abraham sacrifice theme par excellence. Abraham refuses to give into the Pharaoh and Pharaoh will not give into Abraham. Nimrod in his councils decides Abraham must die, so the people followed Pharaoh's decree, everyone bringing wood for the heating of the kiln. The height of the wood was five ells, as well as five ells in diameter, and for three days and nights the fire was kept up. We are told "the flames licked the heavens, so that the oven was at a white heat." Abraham is thrown in and is unharmed. The accounts vary as to what happens, but in every case Abraham wins, God shows He is on Abraham's side because Abraham does not follow other Gods. In Pseudo-Philo the fire was so great it caused 83,500 to be burned as God caused an earthquake to save Abraham, "and Abraham came up out of the furnace, and the fiery furnace collapsed." Interestingly, scholars are aware that "the words Ur Kasdim in Genesis 15:7 ("I am the Lord who brought you out of Ur Kasdim") were taken to mean 'the fire of the Chaldeans' since Ur was read as 'or, 'flame, fire.'"
Kerry continues to explain that this was a battle of true priesthood between Abraham and Nimrod. So it is for the men of Israel and the Babylonian religious/political leaders. They cannot defeat Daniel and his friends with wisdom and understanding, so they seek to destroy them by implementing religious rules that will directly conflict with their religion. However, only those with the true power and authority of God are upheld by God and saved from the fires.
Daniel and the Lion’s Den
Because of Nebuchadnezzar’s personal pride and desire to be king and god, he is dethroned. After a few more overthrows, the Persian King Darius becomes king. By this time, Daniel has established himself as a wise counselor to the various kings that preceded Darius (including interpreting Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams, as we’ll study in the next lesson). Daniel is made Darius’ top adviser, and the first of three presidents over the people.
“Then the presidents and princes sought to find occasion against Daniel concerning the kingdom; but they could find none occasion nor fault; forasmuch as he was faithful, neither was there any error or fault found in him.
Then said these men, We shall not find any occasion against this Daniel, except we find it against him concerning the law of his God” (6:4-5).
Again, political power was sought by many, and they attempted to gain it by using Daniel’s faith in Jehovah against him. If Daniel could be toppled, then there was room for them at the top. The others convinced Darius to require no prayers or petitions to any god or man for 30 days would be cast into the lion’s den.
Daniel was placed in a position to choose. He chose to secretly pray, so as not to provide problems for Darius and his kingdom. However, his enemies seeking his downfall, spied on him as he prayed secretly in his own chambers. Darius was beside himself, as he cherished Daniel’s friendship and counsel, however he had no choice but to fulfill his decree as was required of the kings of Persia.
Daniel was cast into the lion’s den overnight, and when Darius arose early to check on him in the morning, found Daniel well. The Angel of the Lord had stopped the lions’ mouths.
It is very likely that the Angel of the Lord that delivered Daniel was the same one who delivered Abraham from sacrifice. The Angel of the Lord’s Presence is the Messiah, and Savior of mankind. Not only is the Son of God able to protect men in the intensity of fire, but he can also stop the mouths of lions.
In each of these stories, we find that God stepped in and miraculously preserved his people, because they were faithful to God’s commandments, and did not waiver in trying times. Compare this to the majority of Israel in the same period. At the time of Daniel and his friends, Jeremiah and Lehi were being rejected by the people in Jerusalem, and their lives were endangered. It took the Lord to preserve them both. Yet the unfaithful people, who gave lip service to Jehovah, keeping his commandments only when it was convenient, and following the world’s ways as they desired, eventually were destroyed.
In modern days, we see that those who follow ancient and modern prophets receive heavenly blessings that the rest of society do not receive. According to today’s medicine, the modern Word of Wisdom causes the average Mormon to live ten years longer than others in American society. They have less cancer, fewer heart attacks, and improved health over most in society who smoke, drink alcohol, use dangerous drugs, etc.
In 1998, President Gordon B. Hinckley warned of upcoming financial trials, quoting the story of Joseph in Egypt interpreting Pharaoh’s dreams of years of plenty and famine. He stated he did not prophesy of a Great Depression, but did speak of the trials all people had because of that economic crash. He directed everyone to get out of debt, pay off their homes, and live within their means. Ten years after his directive and intense counsel, the global economy collapsed due to these specific issues. For those who purchased modest homes, saved money for a trying time, and prepared for tough economic times, they are in a much better circumstance than those who ignored the modern prophet’s counsel.
Today’s youth, just like Daniel and his friends, are faced with many conflicting societal expectations. There are gods of materialism, philosophy, and temptation that demand them to walk away from their faith, and serve new gods. Regardless of how these gods destroy society’s strengths, they are enticing: money, sex, drugs, gangs, violence, and technologies that can encourage all of these are very available to youth today. Each one must decide for him/herself who they shall worship. While many were successful in living on a Babylonian diet, only Daniel and his loyal friends were supported fully by God and placed at the front of the king’s advisers.
Esther is the only book of the Old Testament not found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. Some believe that it is not among the scrolls because the text does not say God’s name. As it is written, the salvation of the Israelites was due more to the sacrifice by Esther than a miracle at God’s hands.
The Persian king Ahasuerus/Xerxes I, has been stood up by his principle wife. He wished to display her beauty by having her appear at a festival without a veil. She refused to humiliate herself in such a way. To ensure women everywhere did not disobey their husbands, Xerxes deposed her, and sought a beautiful replacement. The story of Esther definitely began as a somewhat sexist story.
However, through the story, we find that Esther is not only beautiful, but also is a strong character. She is definitely a role model for women to follow. The Jewish people were endangered, because one of Xerxes’ chief advisers and military men, Haman, sought to destroy them. He was angry because of Mordecai, Esther’s uncle, and sought to wipe out all the Jews because of it. He wanted power and praise of the world, and was prepared to destroy anyone who got in his way.
Once again, politicians used religion to try and get their way. Haman convinced Xerxes that the Jews were his enemies, and was told that on a certain day, Haman and his followers could arm themselves and slay the Jews. The only way to save the Jews was for Esther to step in and get an audience with the king, yet he had not asked for her in a long time. To enter into the king’s throne room without being invited was risky. Those the king rejected, were put to death. Haman also built a huge gallows, from which to hang Mordecai.
To this grave risk, Esther responded, “if I perish, I perish” (Esther 4:16). Approaching the king, he welcomed her in. She asked to provide a dinner for both Xerxes and Haman, which was granted. Haman thought this was a great honor, and would put him even higher upon the king’s list. However, Esther turned the tables on Haman, revealing her Jewish ancestry and her relationship to Mordecai. Haman hanged on the gallows he built, and the Jews were allowed to arm themselves and attack their enemies, thus winning the day and preserving the Jews in exile.
As we approach more closely to the Second Coming of Christ, the delineation between good and evil will become more clear. There will be no sitting on the fence, which was Esther’s initial desire. But as the days approach where the wicked force us to follow their program, or be destroyed, we have another option: be faithful and allow God to save us from the evils of the world.
Kerry Shirts, Abraham and the Fire (Ur) of Sacrifice: http://www2.ida.net/graphics/shirtail/garment.htm
Daniel in wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniel
Word of Wisdom: http://scriptures.lds.org/en/dc/89
Pres Gordon B. Hinckley’s 1998 warning on the economy: http://tinyurl.com/2buld4c
Esther in wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Esther