In the book of Daniel chapter 10, Daniel is in a period of mourning because a great war is coming. He fasts for 21 days and then sees a vision of what I presume to be an angel. Before the angel explains what will happen to Daniel's people, the angel explains why he is "late" in meeting him:

12 Then he said to me, "Do not be afraid, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart on understanding this and on humbling yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to your words.

13 "But the prince of the kingdom of Persia was withstanding me for twenty-one days; then behold, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I had been left there with the kings of Persia.

Daniel 10:12–13, NIV

It seems very unusual to me that an angel would be delayed for three weeks by any force, and that Michael (the archangel?) had to come to help free him from the "kings of Persia" (demons?).

I suppose I've always had the image that an angel could just poof to a place instantaneously, as usually happens in popular media, so being stuck in a location for three weeks and needing a stronger angel to help seems really bizarre to me and doesn't seem to match up with depictions of other angels of the Bible (e.g., the ones that appeared to Mary and Joseph).

I'm really at a loss for how to explain this. What is an overview of the most common explanations for the angel being delayed here in Daniel?


5 Answers 5


The two most common explanations for the delay are:

  • To make an accommodation to the kingdom or guardian of Persia
  • To resist an evil intended by or suggested to the rulers of Persia

Accommodation to Persia

The view of an accommodation to Persia can be found primarily in church fathers like Jerome, Theodoret, and John Cassian. This view typically understands the "prince" to be an archangel who has oversight over Persia (cf. Deuteronomy 32:8) and who resists the work of the angel out of a sense of justice for his own people. Thus, Jerome writes:

And so the prince or angel of the Persians offered resistance, acting on behalf of the province entrusted to him, in order that the entire captive nation [Israel] might not be released. [...] The prince of Persia opposed him for twenty-one days, enumerating the sins of the Jewish people as a ground for their justly being kept in captivity and as proof that they ought not to be released.1

This guardian, says Theodoret, was "displeased" that Israel would be blessed, despite their sins being worse than those of his own people, and thus the angel is delayed due to his debate with the Persian guardian over Israel's merit and God's plan for them.2

John Cassian's view of the prince is similar but less positive: he calls it a "hostile power" and says that it was out of "jealousy" that it delayed the angel.3

Resistance to an evil

The other common view, that the angel's delay was due to his resisting an evil, is held widely by Protestants in particular. John Gill's explanation is typical:

Gabriel's business in the court of Persia was to work upon the minds of the king of Persia and his nobles, and to influence their counsels, and put them on such measures as would be in favour of the Jews, and be encouraging to them to go on in the rebuilding of their city and temple: in this he was withstood and opposed by an evil spirit that counterworked him; by exasperating the spirit of Cambyses against them.4

The Geneva Study Bible explains the angel's words by suggesting that Persia's rulers would have committed further evil against Israel:

Cambyses, who reigned in his father's absence, and did not only for this time hinder the building of the temple, but would have further raged, if God had not sent me to resist him: and therefore I have stayed for the profit of the Church.5

John Calvin,6 Matthew Poole,7 and John Wesley8 see the matter similarly. Adam Clarke's interpretation is more gracious, seeing the "prince" as the fearful, not malicious, ruler of Persia:

Fearing, probably, the greatness of the work, and not being fully satisfied of his ability to execute it, [the king] therefore for a time resisted the secret inspirations which God had sent him.9

Who is the Prince?

The preferred interpretation of this verse has often depended on one's understanding of the "prince" of Persia: if a good angel, then the accommodation view, and if a bad angel or man, then the resistance view. Albert Barnes notes that the language does not indicate whether the "prince" was good or bad, but because of his resistance to Daniel's angel, presumes him to be a bad angel.10 Haydock finds this argument wanting, saying that no angel, good or bad, can resist God's will.11


  1. Jerome, Commentary on Daniel, tr. Gleason L. Archer.
  2. Theodoret, Commentary on Daniel, tr. Robert C. Hill, p 273–75
  3. Conferences of John Cassian, 1.8.13
  4. Gill, Exposition
  5. Geneva Study Bible
  6. Calvin, Commentary on Daniel
  7. Poole, Annotations
  8. Wesley, Notes
  9. Clarke, Commentary
  10. Barnes, Notes
  11. Haydock, Catholic Bible Commentary
  • I've never heard this accommodation view before. It seems like it was a bureaucratic thing. Daniel's angel was entering an area that it had no privilege to access, so was forced to make his case against the prince. Does that sound right? In any case, in the accommodation view, what exactly did Michael do that Daniel's angel could not? Was it purely a matter of authority, being a chief prince, or was Michael more reasoned? Further still, how does this view account for the prince's apparent defiance of God's will, as Haydock objects?
    – user3961
    Jan 5, 2016 at 19:27
  • @fredsbend Yes, it sounds like something along those lines. Theodoret sees Michael replacing Daniel's angel, taking over for him in the dispute, while Jerome is more vague. The "defiance" angle is not emphasized; I get the impression that they see the situation as an amicable misunderstanding between equals that is escalated up the chain of command but not something that requires instant divine intervention. Jan 5, 2016 at 21:31
  • @fredsbend John Cassian, however, sees it as less than amicable, and Michael's assistance as primarily consisting of military strength. Jan 5, 2016 at 21:32
  • Thank you. This really gives me a whole new sight of angels that I had not considered before.
    – user3961
    Jan 5, 2016 at 22:28
  • The accommodation view introduces an aspect of disunity and competition within the ranks of God's angelic host that seems unsupported in the rest of Scripture. Jun 25, 2022 at 12:07

Apart from scholars involved in higher criticism, Christian commentators tend to fall into two broad groups in understanding the reason for the angel's delay. However, there is broad agreement that the author intended us to understand that the 'princes' in this passage were angels.

One group says that the 'prince of the kings of Persia' was an evil angel. James E. Smith (Daniel: A Christian Interpretation, page 319) says that the prince of the kingdom of Persia obviously must be a powerful angel, and that he must be satanic because he opposes the good angel.

Others say that the 'prince of the kings of Persia' was the guardian angel of Persia. The New American Bible footnote to Daniel 10:13 (5) says the later Judaism ascribed protecting angels to various groups of human society, often as little more than personifications. D. S. Russell (Daniel, page 199) agrees. He surmises that Persia's guardian angel resented the ministering angel's mission and the revelation he brought regarding the vindication of Israel. Russell says that according to contemporary Jewish belief, when a particular guardian angel gained ascendancy over his fellow-angels, the nation over which he had been appointed gained the ascendancy over its neighbours.

  • Is the guardian angel of Persia that you refer to in your last paragraph the same ones described in this answer? Jan 5, 2016 at 7:17
  • @Thunderforge Bear in mind that critical scholars say that Daniel was a second-century-BCE novel, but otherwise the prince of Persia in 10:20 must be the same guardian angel as in 10:13. Jan 5, 2016 at 7:29
  • The accommodation view introduces an aspect of disunity and competition within the ranks of God's angelic host that seems unsupported in the rest of Scripture. Jun 25, 2022 at 12:13

What are common explanations for the angel being delayed for 21 days in Daniel 10:13?

This is not a common explanation, but I believe it is the correct explanation:

When you read the chapter and read in verse 1 that Daniel "understood the thing, and had understanding of the vision" (it is repeated for emphasis) you must wonder, like I have done many times in the past, "What on earth is there to understand? There seems nothing much here!" Then a few days ago I thought What if the 21 days delay is part of the message?

Just as Jeremiah was told how long the Babylonian Empire would last, 70 years, so Daniel was told how long the Persian Empire would last. The difference is that the Holy Spirit chose to keep the duration of the Persian Empire hidden in a vision: this vision is recounted in Daniel chapter 10. Daniel himself understood the vision (verse 1), but the Holy Spirit did not want him to explain it in the word of God.

The 21 days represent the 210 years starting with the Fall of Babylon 539 bc and terminating in the death of the last Persian Emperor Artaxerxes V, i.e. Bessus, at the hands of Alexander the Great in the summer of 329 BC.

Post script:

There may be another explanation instead of or in addition to the above.

Daniel had this vision "in the third year of Cyrus" (Dan 10:1). In his first year he issued a decree that the Temple in Jerusalem be rebuilt (Ezra 1:1-2).

[The "Cyrus Cylinder", a copy of which is in the entrance vestibule of the United Nations HQ, was issued for a different temple and is strongly suggestive he issued the same decree for all temples throughout his empire.]

The date the third year of Cyrus is dated from his conquest of Babylon which fell on the night of 12th Oct 539 BC. According to Babyonian reckoning his Accession Year was from Oct 539 to Nisan 538. His first year started Nisan 538, and his third year began Nisan 536. It was in this year that Daniel had the vision.

Why was Daniel "mourning three full weeks"? Maybe because he had heard that the temple had begun to be rebuilt, but had been brought to a halt by the enemies of the Jews. The delay of 21 days may be a declaration by God that the temple would not be finished for another 21 years, a year per day. The temple was finished on 3rd Adar in the 6th year of Darius I (Ezra 6:15), which according to Parker & Dubberstein's "Babylonian Chronology - 626 BC to AD 75" was 12th March 515 BC (Julian).

The Jews used inclusive counting. In this case it means that the remainder of Cyrus's third year after the time of the vision is counted as a whole year.

So the babylonian year containing 12th March 515 BC (when temple was finally completed) began in Nisan 516 BC which using Jewish inclusive counting was 21 years after Daniel's vision in the year starting Nisan 536 BC.

The delay of 21 days is God's way of telling Daniel the temple would not be completed for another 21 years, which Daniel understood, but the Holy Spirit did not direct Daniel to reveal it to the reader explicitly.

  • Based on the "day for a year" principle, the 21 days would equate with 21 years. Based on "A day with the Lord is as a thousand years" that would be 21,000 years, so can you let me know what provides the bridge from 21 days to 210 years, please?
    – Anne
    Jun 14, 2022 at 17:56
  • @Anne - It is true, there is no principle where a day equates to a hundred years, as far as I know. Although I have more recently given an answer (below) where a day does equate to one year, I still have a problem.. namely verses 1, 14 and 20... "the time appointed was long" v1; "what shall befall thy people in the latter days: for yet the vision is for many days" v14; "and when I am gone forth, lo, the prince of Greece shall come" v20. The first two suggest longer than 21 years. v20 tells us when the conflict with the prince of Persia will end, when Alexander conquers Persia. So though Jun 15, 2022 at 11:17
  • @Anne - So though there is no principle in Scripture for a day is a hundred years, in view of these 3 verses I think a full interpretation of chapter 10 must include the 210 years, possibly as well as the 21 years until the completion of the Temple. A 21 year interpretation does not seem to do justice to these verses. Jun 15, 2022 at 11:20
  • Appreciate your response and will bear those thoughts in mind. It's a very interesting point you make.
    – Anne
    Jun 15, 2022 at 13:07

What are common explanations for the angel being delayed for 21 days in Daniel 10:13?

I believe common explanation miss something critical in this vision, so this is not a common explanation.

Daniel's mourning was in the third year of Cyrus. Cyrus conquered Babylon in Oct 539 BC. His Accession year was from October 539 to the end of Adar 538 BC. His first year started Nisan 538, and so his third year started 1st Nisan, 536 BC. Daniel mourned 3 weeks ending on 24th Nisan so it started 4th Nisan 536 BC. It is to be noted that Daniel mourned all through the festival of the Passover and the Week of Unleavened Bread.

The big problem in this period of Jewish history was in the rebuilding of the Temple at Jerusalem. Cyrus had authorised it, and the foundations were laid in his reign, but thereafter there were considerable hindrances, the enemies of the Jews causing trouble and delay. According to John Calvin "the Prince" is not a demonic angel but rather the man Cambyses II who hindered the work of rebuilding the Temple.

So John Calvin says:

We gather from this passage why the angel appeared to the Prophet in the third year of Cyrus. He says, he was then in the greatest sorrow; and what was the cause of it? At that period we know an interruption of the work of rebuilding the temple and city to have taken place. Cyrus was gone a distance away; he had set out for Asia Minor, and was carrying on war with the Scythians.

His son Cambyses was corrupted by his couriers, and forbade the Jews to proceed with the rebuilding of their city and temple. The freedom of the people might then seem in vain. For God had promised the Jews in glowing language a return to their country with their standards unfurled. Besides this, we know the splendid language of the prophets respecting the glory of the second temple (Isaiah 52:12; Haggai 2:9, and elsewhere.) When thus deprived of all opportunity of rebuilding their temple, what could the Jews think except that they had been deluded after returning to their country, and God had made a show of disappointing expectations which had turned out a mere laughing-stock and deception? This was the cause of the grief and anxiety which oppressed the holy Prophet. We now understand why he mentions the third year of Cyrus, as the circumstances of that period, even at this day, point out the reason of his abstinence from all delicacies.

The hindrances of the Jews' enemies seem to have been accentuated by Cambyses II himself because there was no progress on the Temple during his reign from 530 to 522. Finally the Temple construction restarted in the days of Darius I (Hystaspes) at the encouragements of the prophets Haggai, and Zechariah, and completed on 3rd Adar (the twelfth month) in the sixth year of Darius (Ezra 6:15), which was 12th March 515 BC.

Using Parker & Dubberstein's dates in "Babylonian Chronology, 626 BC to 75 AD", from the date of the beginning of Daniel's period of mourning, 3rd April 536 BC, to the completion of the Temple (Ezra 6:15), 12th March 515 BC, is 21 years minus less than a month. And using inclusive counting the year starting Nisan 516 BC was 21 years from the time of Daniel's mourning in 536 BC.

Each day of the 21 days of mourning thus represents a year until the completion of the rebuilding of the Temple.

It was God's revealed will that the Temple be rebuilt. Of course, no one, neither man nor demonic angel, can thwart the secret plan of God, so the thwarting and the delay were part of God's secret plan. But evil forces, though they think they thwart God's plans, actually help fulfil God's plans, and the timing of God's plans.


Here is another uncommon interpretation.

Assume that Daniel 10's reference to the third year of Cyrus' reign is not a reference to his reign over all Babylon, but the start of his reign many years before.

  • 605 BC: Daniel carried off to Babylon
  • 559 BC: Cyrus begins reign
  • 556 BC: Third year of Cyrus' reign, angel delayed 21-days
  • 535 BC: Daniel returns to Jerusalem after 70 years exile and dies
  • 33 AD: Jesus crucified

Tradition holds that Daniel returned to Jerusalem according to prophecy after seventy years in Babylon and died that year.

Thus Daniel died 21 years after meeting with the angel.

Acknowledging that there is no year zero, the span from 556 BC to 33 AD is 588 years. Thus from Daniel's vision to the crucifixion is an even multiple of 21 years.

588 years = 28 x 21 years

Solomon in Ecclesiastes taught that there are twenty-eight times in certain prophetic cycles. If in this cycle the duration of the period for each time is 21 years, then:

  • A time to be born: Begins in 556 BC
  • A time to die: Begins in 535 BC
  • A time for peace: Begins in 5 AD, Ends in 33 AD

This tells Daniel when he will die (535 AD, a time to die) and when the Prince of Peace will arrive (circa 5 AD, return from exile in Egypt) and depart (33 AD, end of a time for peace at the crucifixion, resurrection and ascension.)

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