1. Preparation for the Vision (10:1–11:1)

(1) Setting (10:1–3)

1In the third year of Cyrus king of Persia, a revelation was given to Daniel (who was called Belteshazzar). Its message was true and it concerned a great war. The understanding of the message came to him in a vision.

2At that time I, Daniel, mourned for three weeks. 3I ate no choice food; no meat or wine touched my lips; and I used no lotions at all until the three weeks were over.

10:1 Daniel’s final “revelation” came “in the third year of Cyrus king of Persia.” Each of the four visions (chaps. 7–12) is dated, and the visions appear in two groups of two: the first and third years of Belshazzar and the first and third years of Cyrus. Cyrus’s third year would have been 536/535 B.C., two years after Gabriel’s appearance to Daniel in chap. 9 and a short while after the first return of the Jewish exiles to Palestine. About this time the lions’ den incident took place, though it is not certain if it happened shortly before or after the vision.

Verse 1 forms a general statement of introduction to the vision, and the third person seems to have been chosen for that reason. Daniel interjected his Babylonian name, “Belteshazzar,” apparently to emphasize that he was indeed the same individual spoken of earlier in the book. After all, it had been over seventy years since he had been taken into captivity; he would now have been about eighty-five years of age. Yet he was still alive and serving the Lord.

Probably Daniel’s advanced years and responsibilities in Babylon prevented him from making the long and arduous journey to his homeland with the other Jewish returnees. The respected statesman may also have felt that he could be of greater service to his people in Babylon than in Palestine.

Although the vision was extraordinary, Daniel stressed that “its message was true [’ĕmet].” “It concerned a great war” has been variously interpreted. “War” is a translation of Hebrew ṣābā’, “army, war, warfare, or service.” The NASB takes the phrase to signify that the message was “one of great conflict [ṣābā’]” (cf. “it concerned a great conflict,” NRSV), and the KJV understands it to mean that the message was for the distant future, “the time appointed [taking ṣābā’ to mean “service, time of serving”] was long [lit., great].” The KJV’s interpretation would be very unusual and is unlikely.

Literally the Hebrew text reads simply “and a great war” or “conflict,” with the verb to be supplied. The phrase could refer to a great earthly war (or wars) that would occur in the future, or it could even describe spiritual warfare between the forces of God and the forces of Satan. Both interpretations would suit the context well, for a conflict between spiritual forces is described in chaps. 10 and 11, and great wars are prophesied in chap. 11. Probably all the conflicts (or warfare) recorded in these last chapters are involved in the expression, whether conflicts between nations or angels.

The final sentence of v. 1 literally reads, “He understood the message, and understanding came to him in the vision.” The parallel relationship between these two clauses seems plainly to show that “he understood the message” and “understanding came to him in [i.e., “in the matter of”] the vision” are synonymous in meaning (cf. 9:23). Porteous points out that “vision” in this context (as in 9:23) is employed not “in the ordinary sense of the word” but “in the sense of the substance of a revelation.” Thus the text does not indicate that Daniel received understanding “by means of” a vision (NIV and Leupold ) but that he “had an understanding of the vision” (NASB).

This understanding came as an answer to Daniel’s prayers (cf. 10:12). Evidently the prophet was again praying for wisdom concerning the future of his people, the Jews. In the previous three visions God had already revealed much pertaining to Israel’s fate, but Daniel desired to know more. By now the Jewish captives had returned to Palestine, but their plight was precarious. Work on the temple was being opposed by the Samaritans, and it is possible that reconstruction had already been halted (cf. Ezra 4:5, 24). Archer suggests that this development may have led to Daniel’s renewed concern.

10:2 “At that time” (lit., “in those days”) either refers back to the third year of Cyrus (536/535 B.C.) or to the days immediately preceding the revelation. “Mourned” is a participle in the Hebrew that has the force of “continually mourning,” a state of mourning. The word “mourned” (’ābal) denotes mourning for the dead (Gen 37:34), over sin (Ezra 10:6), and over a calamity (Ezek 7:12). Years later Nehemiah (Neh 1:4) “mourned” (same Hebrew word) over the condition of the Jews who had returned to Palestine, and this is evidently what so deeply concerned Daniel here. His mourning involved prayer (cf. v. 12) and fasting (cf. v. 3; cf. also Matt 9:14–15).

“Three weeks” is literally “three sevens of days.” Lacocque correctly remarks, “This preparation lasts ‘three weeks of days’; manifestly the Author added the term ‘days’ to prevent confusion with the ‘week (of years)’ from chapter 9.”

10:3 For three weeks Daniel had been fasting when he received the revelation—“I ate no choice food; no meat or wine touched my lips.” In Hebrew there is a conjunction between these two clauses that could be rendered “even,” which would explain that the “choice food” omitted from Daniel’s diet was “meat and wine.” Daniel seems to have engaged in a semifast rather than refraining from eating all food for this three-week period. He may have existed on bread and water. “I used no lotions at all” means that Daniel “neglected the usual niceties of personal grooming, such as fragrant oil on his hair or body.” Anointing the body with oil was a common practice among the Jews and other ancient peoples, its purpose being to soothe and refresh the skin and to protect against the heat.

Fasting is a neglected discipline for most Christians today, but it was commonly practiced in biblical times. Some have associated fasting with legalism, but only one fast was commanded in the biblical law code. Once a year on the Day of Atonement the people of Israel were to “deny” themselves by fasting and mourning over their sins (Lev 16:29–31). Even then individuals had to choose to come to Jerusalem and participate in the feast. Other fasts recorded in the Bible were voluntary. Through fasting, a person demonstrated sincerity by denying one of humanity’s strongest urges, that of satisfying hunger.

Fasting is a personal matter between the individual and God. It is voluntary. However, if giants of the faith like Moses, David, Esther, Daniel, Paul, and Jesus himself felt the need to fast, it would seem reasonable that modern saints should be willing to deny themselves in order to pray more earnestly for the furtherance of the kingdom of God in a world that lies in deep spiritual darkness.

(2) Vision of the Heavenly Being (10:4–9)

4On the twenty-fourth day of the first month, as I was standing on the bank of the great river, the Tigris, 5I looked up and there before me was a man dressed in linen, with a belt of the finest gold around his waist. 6His body was like chrysolite, his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches, his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze, and his voice like the sound of a multitude.

7I, Daniel, was the only one who saw the vision; the men with me did not see it, but such terror overwhelmed them that they fled and hid themselves. 8So I was left alone, gazing at this great vision; I had no strength left, my face turned deathly pale and I was helpless. 9Then I heard him speaking, and as I listened to him, I fell into a deep sleep, my face to the ground.

10:4 Nisan (March-April) was the first month, and so Daniel had begun his time of prayer and fasting three weeks before the twenty-fourth day, that is, on the third of Nisan. Passover was celebrated on the fourteenth of Nisan, immediately followed by the Feast of Unleavened Bread, which lasted for seven days (cf. Exod 12:14–18). Likely the season of the year had been a factor in Daniel’s decision to fast and pray. Passover was the time of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt, and this may have turned Daniel’s thoughts toward the present deliverance and “exodus” of the Israelites from Babylon.

Daniel was beside the Tigris (Heb. ḥiddāqel) in bodily presence, not in vision, when a heavenly being appeared to him. For some reason he was away from Babylon, the capital. Archer thinks Daniel may have been in the area on official business, but since the prophet was involved in an extended period of prayer and fasting, he likely had left the capital in order to spend uninterrupted time with the Lord. The Tigris River originated several hundred miles to the north of Babylon and flowed through Babylonia to the Persian Gulf, passing within about twenty miles of the capital. Consequently, Daniel may have been as close as twenty miles or as far as several hundred miles from the city of Babylon (although his age probably precluded distant travel).

10:5 The NIV’s “there before me” is a translation of hinnēh, “behold, look.” Hinnēh is an interjection and contains an element of excitement the NIV does not convey. The prophet was amazed at this heavenly being. Keil observes that since this person is presented in 12:6 as being in the air above the waters of the Tigris, his location probably was the same here. Daniel was standing on the river bank, and the phrase “I looked up” may also intimate that this person was above the prophet.

This being, called a “man” because he appeared in human form, was dressed in white “linen” garments (baddîm). Priests (cf. Exod 28:42; Lev 6:10 [Heb. Heb. 6:3]; 16:4) and the angel in Ezek 9:2–3, 11; 10:2, 6–7 (cf. Rev 15:6) are specifically stated to have been arrayed in white “linen” garments. However, it may not have been the material as much as its white color that was significant, since white is symbolic of purity (cf. Isa 1:18; Dan 11:35; 12:10). Saints in heaven also are depicted as wearing white robes (cf. Rev 3:5; 6:11; 7:9, 13), and earlier in this book (7:9) God himself was described as being clothed in white garments. So the significance is that this was a holy personage.

Archer comments that this golden belt may have been “in the form of chain-links, hinged panels, or gold thread embroidery.” A linen belt embroidered with gold thread is most likely. Di Lella remarks that a golden belt “was part of the costume of the wealthy and royal classes in the ancient Near East (cf. 1 Macc 10:89; 11:58).” In this context the symbolism may suggest a king or judge.

10:6 Hebrew taršîš, “chrysolite,” occurs a number of times in the Old Testament (e.g., Ezek 1:16; 10:9) and denotes some kind of gold-colored precious stone, although its exact identification is unclear. It has been variously translated as “chrysolite,” “beryl” (KJV, NKJV, NASB, NRSV, Montgomery), or “topaz” (Goldingay). Driver remarks that this gem is “said … to be the topaz of the moderns—a flashing stone, described by Pliny as ‘a transparent stone with a refulgence like that of gold.’” Some yellow colored stone must have been intended because the term describes the body of the heavenly being as glowing like golden fire (cf. the later description “his arms and legs like the gleam of burnished bronze”). Lacocque adds that the gem was named after the city from which it was exported, Tartessos in Spain.

The face of this awesome being appeared as brilliant as a flash of “lightning,” and his eyes were like “flaming torches.” “His arms” and “legs” (lit., “feet,” but the legs are included here) gleamed like “burnished bronze,” indicating that his body had a fiery appearance, like burning metal (cf. Ezek 1:27). When he spoke, “his voice” (lit., “the sound of his words”) thundered like “the sound of a multitude” of people.

Who was this person? The majority of scholars identify him simply as the angel sent to deliver the message to Daniel. Montgomery has suggested that this interpreting angel was Gabriel, who appeared to Daniel previously (cf. 8:16; 9:21). Yet Lacocque cogently argues that this being could not have been Gabriel, for when Daniel met that angel in 9:21, he was not afraid whereas here he was overcome with fear and had to be revived three times.

On the other hand, some have identified the “man dressed in linen” as none other than God himself, probably in the person of the divine Messiah (see comments on 3:25). That this person was God seems to be the correct view not only because of the overwhelming effect of his presence on Daniel but because of the similar description of the theophany presented in Ezek 1:26–28 and the even closer parallel to the portrait of Christ in Rev 1:12–16. In 12:6 this “man in linen” also seems to have had knowledge that transcended that of the other angels, and in 12:7 he took a divine oath.

An argument commonly raised against the equation of this person with deity is that the angel described in vv. 10–14 was clearly inferior to God. For example, this angel was “sent” to Daniel (v. 11) and required Michael’s help to fight against other angelic forces (v. 13). G. C. Luck offered the proper solution to this problem, which is that the “man dressed in linen” and the interpreting angel introduced in v. 10 are distinct personalities. At least four holy angels (the interpreting angel [10:10–14 and throughout chaps. 10–12]; Michael [10:13, 21]; and two others [12:5]) appear in this vision, and the “man dressed in linen” is unquestionably in charge (cf. 12:6–7). Therefore the personage described in 10:5–6 is a theophany, but the contents of the vision are related by the interpreting angel, who is introduced at v. 10. In the Book of Revelation there is a similar pattern. On occasions John encountered Christ himself (e.g., 1:12–20), whereas at other times he was instructed by an angel (e.g., 17:1–6).

10:7 Only Daniel saw (extremely emphatic in the Hebrew—“I saw, I, Daniel, I alone”) this heavenly person in the “vision,” although the other men felt a supernatural presence. “Such terror [lit., “a great trembling”] overwhelmed” (lit., “fell upon”) Daniel’s companions “that they fled and hid themselves.” Paul had a similar experience when he met Christ on the Damascus Road (Acts 9:1–7). Only he saw Jesus, but the others with him felt the presence of the Lord and became speechless with fear.

10:8–9 Daniel was left alone with this awesome being whose appearance drained him of all his strength. As the heavenly personage spoke, the prophet evidently was so overwhelmed with shock at hearing the voice of God that he “fell into a deep sleep” with his “face to the ground” (cf. John’s experience in Rev 1:17). God spoke, presumably, words of greeting to Daniel after which the prophet seems to have lapsed into a state of unconsciousness. Daniel’s severe reaction to the presence of this person confirms that this being was no mere angel.

(3) The Interpreting Angel’s Explanation (10:10–14)

10A hand touched me and set me trembling on my hands and knees. 11He said, “Daniel, you who are highly esteemed, consider carefully the words I am about to speak to you, and stand up, for I have now been sent to you.” And when he said this to me, I stood up trembling.

12Then he continued, “Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them. 13But the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days. Then Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, because I was detained there with the king of Persia. 14Now I have come to explain to you what will happen to your people in the future, for the vision concerns a time yet to come.”

10:10 Now the vision of Christ has passed, and the interpreting angel enters the picture. He touched the prophet and raised him from the ground so that he was resting on his “hands and knees.” Daniel was “trembling” with weakness and fear and was barely able to keep himself from falling back down on his face. Although it is strange that his name was not given as in the previous two visions (cf. 8:16; 9:21), many scholars identify this angel as Gabriel, a view that probably is correct. Gabriel served as a communicator of God’s messages on several occasions (cf. 8:15–16; 9:21; Luke 1:19, 26–27). Furthermore, the interpreting angel evidently had great power (cf. 11:1), which would be true of a prominent being like Gabriel.

10:11 Daniel was addressed as “you who are highly esteemed” (cf. 9:23) and was instructed to listen carefully to the angel’s words. Archer remarks that Daniel would certainly need to listen carefully, for the message he was about to receive (particularly chap. 11) was “full of confusing detail couched in somewhat vague terms—from the standpoint of 535 B.C., at least.” Modern believers should note that the prophecies set forth in this revelation that have been fulfilled (see discussion of chap. 11) were fulfilled literally and exactly. This demonstrates that the prophecies yet unfulfilled will be accomplished in similar fashion.

Daniel was told to “stand up” with renewed courage and strength, for a mighty angel from the very presence of God had been sent with the answer to his prayer. He should have been honored and excited. At the angel’s command Daniel mustered his strength and rose to his feet though he was still “trembling.”

10:12 Gabriel continued to comfort God’s servant by telling him not to be afraid. Daniel was then informed that from “the first day” that he had “set” his “mind” (lit., “heart”) to pray for understanding (“to gain understanding”) and had begun to fast (“to humble yourself”) before God, his petition was heard. “To humble” oneself before God was an expression that many times was equated with fasting (cf. Lev 16:29, 31; 23:27, 32; Ps 35:13), as it is here (cf. v. 3). God was touched by his servant’s determined prayer (“your words”), and the heavenly messenger was sent (emphatic in Heb., “I, myself, have come”) “in response to” Daniel’s pleas.

10:13 One of the strangest accounts in the Bible is now unfolded. The angel related that he was coming to bring Daniel the answer to his prayer but was delayed because “the prince of the Persian kingdom resisted me twenty-one days.” Finally, Michael (whose name means “who is like God?”), one of the most powerful and important angels (“one of the chief princes”), came to the interpreting angel’s aid. Evidently the reason that Michael became involved and not another powerful angel was that Daniel was interceding for Israel, a nation especially entrusted to Michael’s care (v. 21).

The NIV’s “detained there with the king of Persia” could mean that the angel was prevented from leaving the area ruled by the human king of the Persian Empire. Yet the Hebrew word translated “king” is plural, and the concept of the angel’s being “detained with” the earthly kings of Persia seems untenable. In the context of angelic warfare, these “kings” likely were spiritual rulers who attempted to control Persia.

Regardless of the exact meaning of this last clause, the point of the verse is clear. Gabriel had been on his way from heaven with a message for Daniel but had been prevented by the prince of Persia. Michael had helped him to have victory over this foe, and Gabriel was then able to continue his journey. Jeffery seems correct in stating that the conflict probably was not an attempt to prevent the angel from bringing the message to Daniel (though this was the result), for the conflict was resumed after the revelation was delivered (cf. 10:20), but rather this warfare involved “something apart from the message.” The nature of this encounter will be discussed later.

Michael is introduced in this verse and is also mentioned in Dan 10:21; 12:1; Jude 9; and Rev 12:7 in Scripture. In Jude 9 he is called the “archangel,” which means “first (chief) angel.” Michael has been assigned by God as Israel’s prince (cf. 10:21); he is “great” in power and protects the Jewish people (cf. 12:1). The implications of these statements are clear. Israel has a mighty angelic supporter in the heavenly realm. Therefore, regardless of Israel’s political, military, and economic weaknesses, its existence is assured because no earthly power can resist their great prince.

Who was this “prince of the Persian kingdom” who resisted Gabriel for three weeks? (1) He must have been an angel since no human prince could have withstood Gabriel. Moreover, Israel’s “prince” was the angel Michael (10:21), and it is reasonable to suppose that in the same context the “prince” of Persia was also an angel. (2) Since this prince opposed God’s angel, he may safely be assumed to have been an evil angel, that is, a demon. Leupold remarks: “Bad angels, called demons in the New Testament, are, without a doubt, referred to here.” (3) He is called the “prince of the Persian kingdom,” so Persia must have been his special area of activity. Therefore this demon was either a powerful angel assigned to Persia by Satan or possibly he was Satan himself. Persia ruled the world in that day, and Satan would surely have concentrated his personal efforts in this most influential area. If the demon was Satan, it would explain why Michael, one of God’s most powerful angels, was needed to fight against him. The angelic warfare continued, for v. 20 reveals that the good angel would return to fight against this demon. Young suggests that it was this evil angel who “influenced the kings of Persia to support the Samaritans against Israel.”

From this passage several important facts are evident concerning angels: (1) angels are real; (2) there are good and evil angels; (3) angels can influence the affairs of human beings. Particularly this passage teaches that angels inspire human governments and their leaders. Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who was described in chap. 8 (also chap. 11), was certainly encouraged by demonic forces in his attempts to eradicate the Jewish religion. Antichrist, depicted in chaps. 7; 9; and 11 of this book, also will be satanically inspired (cf. 2 Thess 2:9; Rev 13:2). In Daniel’s day Persia ruled the earth. Satan would naturally have attempted to influence the decisions made by the Persian government because policies made there would affect the world. Today Satan continues his attempts to sway earthly powers, and he focuses his attention on nations of the world with the most influence. On the other hand, Dan 10:13, 20 and 11:1 demonstrate the positive activity of holy angels on governments. (4) There is an invisible, spiritual warfare being waged that involves angels and believers. The apostle Paul said, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Eph 6:12). This warfare is an ongoing struggle (cf. v. 20). (5) God’s angels act on behalf of the saints. Here they are instrumental in delivering to Daniel a message from God. Believers probably would be surprised to learn of the many acts performed for them (e.g., protection) by the Lord’s angels.

Daniel’s experience should not be interpreted to signify that God is weak or that demonic forces have power to thwart the will of God. The Book of Daniel teaches throughout its pages the absolute sovereignty of the Almighty, and God could easily have ensured the delivery of the message to Daniel in a moment. Archer rightly comments: “While God can, of course, override the united resistance of all the forces of hell if he chooses to do so, he accords to demons certain limited powers of obstruction and rebellion somewhat like those he allows humans. In both cases the exercise of free will in opposition to the Lord of heaven is permitted by him when he sees fit. But as Job 1:12 and 2:6 indicate, the malignity of Satan is never allowed to go beyond the due limit set by God.” Believers should take comfort in these words, “The one who is in you [God] is greater than the one who is in the world [the devil]” (1 John 4:4).

In this instance, within the omniscient wisdom of God and the divine plan of God, the delay was permitted. Reasons for this delay are not outlined in the text, but it may be assumed that God allowed three weeks to pass in order to perform some work in Daniel’s spiritual life or for some other unknown purpose. Many times God permits believers to wait for their prayer answers in order to teach them valuable lessons, for example, spiritual commitment, patience, faith. There are also times when God fully intends to respond affirmatively to a request but in his wisdom delays because he knows that the proper time has not yet come.

10:14 The angel now declared the purpose for his visit. Daniel’s prayer had been for insight concerning the future of his people, the Jews, and God was granting him knowledge about these matters.

“In the future” is a translation of the Hebrew bĕ’aḥărît hayyāmîm, usually rendered “in the latter days.” Normally the phrase describes events that will occur just prior to and including the coming of the kingdom of God upon the earth, and Di Lella considers the expression “clearly eschatological.” The climax of the historical preview provided by the angel is the future kingdom of God. During the course of this preview, the persons of Antiochus IV and Antichrist receive particular attention.

—New American Commentary