The Layman's Bible

Biblical Interpretation from Someone with no Training in Biblical Interpretation

The Inconvenient Law of the Medes and Persians

During Israel’s time in exile, a law among the Medes and Persians comes up a couple of times that is really inconvenient and honestly quite annoying. According to this law, any laws or proclamations that are made cannot be repealed. This means that once it is written, the law stands. It generally ends up being a stumbling block for God’s people after the king of the time makes a stupid law. For example, King Darius made a self-aggrandizing law without considering who it might impact. History records,

So the administrators and the satraps went as a group to the king and said: “O King Darius, live forever! The royal administrators, prefects, satraps, advisers and governors have all agreed that the king should issue an edict and enforce the decree that anyone who prays to any god or man during the next thirty days, except to you, O king, shall be thrown into the lions’ den. Now, O king, issue the decree and put it in writing so that it cannot be altered –in accordance with the laws of the Medes and Persians, which cannot be repealed.” So King Darius put the decree in writing” (Daniel 6:6-9).

However, one of Darius’ most trusted advisers, Daniel, was a Jew and prayed to God; falling under the punishment from the law. And although he was grieved, this stupid law prohibited the king from saving Daniel; for we read as the king finds out about Daniel,

When the king heard this, he was greatly distressed; he was determined to rescue Daniel and made every effort until sundown to save him.

     Then the men went as a group to the king and said to him, “Remember, O king, that according to the law of the Medes and Persians no decree or edict that the king issues can be changed.”

     So the king gave the order, and they brought Daniel and threw him into the lions’ den. The king said to Daniel, “May your God, whom you serve continually, rescue you!” (Daniel 6:14-16).

The Inconvenient Law of the Medes and Persians (King Headache)The law basically made the king powerless to help his friend. Though, that was probably the point of the law against repealing laws; it was likely used to limit the kings’ whims and favoritism. So although extremely inconvenient, it seemed to serve a good purpose.

But Daniel’s adventure in the Lion’s den wasn’t the only time this law got in the way. Because he had a grudge, one of King Xerxes’ advisors suggested a new law:

Then Haman said to King Xerxes, “There is a certain people dispersed and scattered among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom whose customs are different from those of all other people and who do not obey the king’s laws; it is not in the king’s best interest to tolerate them. If it pleases the king, let a decree be issued to destroy them, and I will put ten thousand talents of silver into the royal treasury for the men who carry out this business (Esther 3:8-9).

Not really paying attention, the king approved and let Haman enact genocide. We read,

Dispatches were sent by couriers to all the king’s provinces with the order to destroy, kill and annihilate all the Jews –young and old, women and little children –on a single day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the month of Adar, and to plunder their goods. A copy of the text of the edict was to be issued as law in every province and made known to the people of every nationality so they would be ready for that day (Esther 3:13-14).

Oh but wait! The queen was a Jew too! Oops! Though, to the king’s credit, Queen Esther had kept her heritage as secret. But eventually Xerxes did find out:

Then Queen Esther answered, “If I have found favor with you, O king, and if it pleases your majesty, grant me my life –this is my petition. And spare my people –this is my request. For I and my people have been sold for destruction and slaughter and annihilation. If we had merely been sold as male and female slaves, I would have kept quiet, because no such distress would justify disturbing the king” (Esther 7:3-4).

But…oh yeah, there’s that one law that says all decrees must stick. Instead the king had to issue a counter-decree. The Bible recalls,

King Xerxes replied to Queen Esther and to Mordecai the Jew, “Because Haman attacked the Jews, I have given his estate to Esther, and they have hanged him on the gallows. Now write another decree in the king’s name in behalf of the Jews as seems best to you, and seal it with the king’s signet ring –for no document written in the king’s name and sealed with his ring can be revoked” (Esther 8:7-8).

So, a counter-law was released:

The king’s edict granted the Jews in every city the right to assemble and protect themselves; to destroy, kill and annihilate any armed force of any nationality or province that might attack them and their women and children; and to plunder the property of their enemies. The day appointed for the Jews to do this in all the provinces of the King Xerxes was the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the month of Adar. A copy of the text of the edict was to be issued as law in every province and made known to the people of every nationality so that the Jews would be ready on that day to avenge themselves on their enemies (Esther 8:11-13).

And so for one day, due to the law of laws, the Kingdom of Persia had a mini-civil war.

I don’t’ know about you, but the whole thing seems kind of…well, stupid. Similar laws exist today, but usually you can make a new law specifically repealing the old, overwriting it (even if the old law is still in the books [usually with a strike through it, denoting its status]). But being completely unable to change a law and only being able to enact counter-laws is just straight up inconvenient. The Holy Spirit showed me though that there is some precedent for such a law in the Bible. It starts with remembering that God doesn’t change. In fact, God noted that in Malachi 3:6 by saying, “I the Lord do not change. So you, O descendants of Jacob, are not destroyed.” James 1:16-17 echoes the Lord’s continuity, “Do not be deceived, my dear brothers. Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” As the holy and perfect God, the Lord gave his people the Law on how to be righteous. However, the Law is basically impossible for anyone to full adhere to (as humans are not perfect). And so we all fall under the Law; as Paul noted, “All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law’” (Galatians 3:10). However, because God doesn’t change, the Law likewise cannot be altered. Even Jesus acknowledged this situation as he taught. Matthew 5:17-18 records,

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.

So, due to our imperfection, we fall under the curse of the Law of God, and the Law cannot be changed as the Lord is perfect. Great, we’re all screwed.

God, however, never intended that we’d all go to hell, and so he, like Xerxes and crew, developed a way around the Law: the cross. The death of Jesus represented a cross-point of several laws bound up in order to save mankind. The Law states,

If a man guilty of a capital offense is put to death and his body is hung on a tree, you must not leave his body on the tree overnight. Be sure to bury him that same day, because anyone who is hung on a tree is under God’s curse. You must not desecrate the land the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance (Deuteronomy 21:22-23).

The Inconvenient Law of the Medes and Persians (Arrow Cross)So, due to his death on a wooden cross (an artificial tree if you will), Jesus is able to take on the curses of the people. This is why it is written in the New Testament, “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: ‘Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree’” (Galatians 3:13). And Hebrews 9:22 explains, “In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” Therefore, we know that by the Law a sacrifice is required for us to be forgiven. However, the sacrifices of the Law were insufficient; for it is written, “But those sacrifices are an annual reminder of sins, because it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Hebrews 10:3-4). Therefore, a greater sacrifice was required to clean us from our sinful state (as pronounced upon us by the law). But not just anyone could be the ultimate sacrifice because God reminds us in Ezekiel 18:4, “For every living soul belongs to me, the father as well as the son –both alike belong to me. The soul who sins is the one who will die.” Unfortunately, as Paul realized in Romans 7:14, “We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin.” Nobody is without sin in front of the Law, so the ultimate sacrifice needed to be without sin- something no human was able to be due to our own sin nature. But we’ve already established that only the Lord God was perfect and without sin.

Enter the son: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning” (John 1:1-2). The Word, the Son of God, who was also God, came to the earth:

The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world.

     He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him (John 1:9-10).

The Word, the Light, the one who was with God at the creation of the world, and yet was unrecognizable to the world as one of its own (due to his perfection) came to us. And who was this being? Luke 1:30-33 records,

But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favor with God. You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.”

Jesus, the Son of God, who is God, and who has all of the permanence of the Law in his reign; thus Jesus (through his perfection) was able to follow the Law while still being an equivalent sacrifice (and in fact greater, as his sacrifice was God-sized). The writer of Hebrews acknowledges of Jesus,

Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself (Hebrews 7:27).

So Paul concludes, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

Let’s review: using a legal loophole, God was able to serve the perfect and holy Law that he created, save his horribly imperfect people, and yet still remain unchanging through Jesus the counter-law of counter-laws. And to cap it all off, the Lord added a new Law through his Holy Spirit for all those willing to accept Christ’s death on their behalf so that all may be saved from the curse of the Law:

…That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile –the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:9-13).

Pretty cool, eh?

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9 comments on “The Inconvenient Law of the Medes and Persians

  1. Max
    May 23, 2016

    You described the laws of the Medes and the Persians as “stupid”. I agree but found it “really inconvenient and honestly quite annoying” (to use your words) that you interject your opinion instead of leaving it to the reader. And could it be that the provision for “any laws or proclamations that are made cannot be repealed” is the basis for the claim of inerrancy of Scripture? Imagine that the author of Exodus thinking, “What a great idea” as he wrote in Deuteronomy 4:2, “Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the LORD your God that I give you”?

  2. The Layman
    May 23, 2016

    Thank you for taking a look at my article, Max ^^

    I absolutely understand how my language usage may have rubbed you the wrong way. Sometimes for the sake of levity I may offend, though no harm (especially to the Scriptures) was meant.

    I feel my greater issue is that in said levity, I may have not driven home my point clearly enough, as the very outcome that the Spirit has led you to to through the laws of the Medes and Persians was the same outcome the article intended to present.

    The law clearly seems like a stumbling block; however (a) it likely served a purpose in its own time (preventing the king from misusing his power) and (b) showed that God is perfect, and his laws are as such as well (even if they seem inconvenient)- so much so that even though the Law of Moses is impossible for man, when law is placed upon law, the cross of Christ appears. Therefore Paul is justified in saying, “So then, the law is holy, and the commandment is holy, righteous and good” (Romans 7:12).

    I will try though to use less potentially offensive wording in future writings. Again, thank you for your input; I always like when people actually comment.

    Have a great day!

  3. Dave
    August 26, 2016

    Very cool.

    Thanks for your article and website- what a blessing it is to read how God is using you and your love for the word, be encouraged brother!

    Really thought provoking stuff which is encouraging and awesome how it points to Christ. I stumbled upon the blog as I am preparing a sermon on Daniel 6 hence looking into the law of the medes and Persians.

    One thing that stuck me is you said at the end “using a legal loophole, God was able to serve the perfect and holy Law…” I’m not picking a fight (I promise!) but I guess when I read it, it maybe came across as though God suddenly realised His law was unattainable and had to somehow develop a loophole when the reality is that He knew all of this before time began and it was always in His sovereign plan to send Jesus as a sin bearing sacrifice. I don’t for one minute doubt you know and agree with this one but just wanted to contribute!

    Be blessed!

    • The Layman
      August 26, 2016

      Thank you for your encouraging words, Dave! ^^

      As for your comment about the end, I am in total agreement with you. Before time had begun the Lord knew all that would be happening and had already set up Jesus to come and save us. So in terms of legality, I suppose that means he wrote the law with the Christ loophole in mind.

      Good luck with your sermon and have a great day!

  4. Robert McDaniel
    October 25, 2016

    Appreciate the article in addressing an encumbering principle or precept. But, the Holy Spirit has quickened me to appreciate, that is what I do when I presume to know His law and the Bible as if I were God, then by my fallen nature, begin to judge circumstances as if I were God, and like God. A sure sin indeed. But Jesus established a distinction between the Scriptures (revealing the Law) and Himself (revealing the Life) and laments that the Jews would not come to Him that they may have Life. The Spirit testifies that “. . . the Word of God is not bound” (Word being Logos not graphe) and that God changes not. It does not say, I can circumspectly grasp eternal truth as a finite being. How does James point us to the works of faith represented by Abraham (who took the innocent life of Issac in his heart before the Lord stopped him) and Rahab (who lied and did not honor civil authorities) and directly violate the Scripture (taking innocent life, lying, disrespect for civil authorities)? Does He not say, the sheep ‘hear
    His voice’ and He ‘leads them in and out?’. The Holy Spirit has convicted me the law of the Medes and Persians represents, among others, I am sure, the attempt of fallen man to be ‘like god’. Until we let the sword of the Lord, that guards and keeps the Tree of life, how will we be transformed into the resurrected Life of our Lord Jesus? God Speed.

  5. The Layman
    October 29, 2016

    Thank you for your response, Robert ^^

    I’m not going to lie, I’ve read your response several times and didn’t entirely understand it all. However, I’m glad that the Holy Spirit is using the article here as a chance to speak to you.

    You do make a valid point though that the law itself seems like an attempt for king’s to also have unchanging words like God; which of course we know is a futile attempt.

    Anyway, rock on and keep on truckin’ in the Lord!

  6. Allen Widdows
    February 8, 2017

    Hi, there!

    Just wanted to make a comment about the law s of the Medes and Persians; there are a couple of things going on in the book of Daniel that actually manifest themselves here and elsewhere in the book. Both are related to each other and important to consider.

    First, the contrast between the kingdom of Nebuchadnezzar and all of the succeeding kingdoms represented in the vision of the statute in Daniel 2. Nebuchadnezzar was the head of gold, described by Daniel in verses 37-38: “You, O king, are a king of kings. For the God of heaven has given you a kingdom, power, strength, and glory; and wherever the children of men dwell, or the beasts of the field and the birds of the heaven, He has given them into your hand, and has made you ruler over them all—you are this head of gold.”

    Then came the chest and arms of silver in verse 39: “But after you shall arise another kingdom inferior to yours…” This silver kingdom, according to other prophecies in the book of Daniel, is that of the Medes and Persians.

    We see Nebuchadnezzar making decrees and changing his mind a couple of times in Chapters 2 and 3, yet not worrying a bit about it. Why? Because he was an all powerful king who could exercise his whims at will and no one would question it. To him, ultimate power was doing what he wanted without any accountability; he could afford to change his mind because he was secure in his power–his God-given power, it must be said.

    With the Medes and the Persians, however, their kings were not as secure in their power. To them, to be in power meant to always be right in everything that they do; changing their minds was a sign of weakness, inviting opposition and loss of prestige. Since many of them tried to wield the religious trump card, a reversal of a decree was a demonstration that the king was not a god nor a perfect human. A clearly inferior kingdom in human terms, and a trademark of most modern dictatorships–eliminate the opposition and rewrite history to make the regime always right. One only has to read George Orwell’s 1984 to see how this is supposed to work.

    The second theme seen here is, of course, the sovereignty of God, the truly all-powerful ruler of the Universe. It was God who granted authority to both Nebuchadnezzar and Darius; He was not threatened by them, even though they were pagan rulers. Ultimately, both acclaimed the Lord as God over all the kingdoms. God never changes His mind, but He does demonstrate grace, mercy, and patience–the latter is often interpreted as a weakness to the unsaved, as they view this quality as God not willing to act to enforce His own law.

    There are a lot of other gems here, be these two stand out.

    Have a blessed day!

  7. The Layman
    February 9, 2017

    Hello Allen, thank you very much for sharing this ^^

    The Law of the Medes and the Persians is such a rich concept in the Bible; and the way the Holy Spirit causes it to stand out so much every time it shows up begs for more and more considerations every time. Your take on it is really cool, and something I never noticed but immediately recognized as soon as I started reading your reply.

    It just goes to show that God has so many lessons throughout the Bible that even a 1st or 2nd look isn’t enough. This is why we can keep reading the Bible and even ten years or more on still find it fresh every time.

    Rock on, man; and any time you get the urge to add more to the articles here, by all means do so ^^

  8. Pingback: Did God Change His Law? | Full Circle Homeschooling

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This entry was posted on November 28, 2015 by in Bible Stuff and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , .
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