Musings On Daniel

Thousands of messages have been preached about Daniel’s experiences in Babylon – many of them focussing on what it means to live purely and to have a “more excellent spirit”. There are a few other things that jump out at me, which I’d like to highlight.

Daniel, though young, was smart.  In his first interactions with the Babylonian court, we see him working through the proper channels.  He asks the supervisor for permission to skip the rich food (offered to idols?).  He asks the cop, “What’s the rush on the executions?” and makes an appointment to do the impossible or die trying.  He works, initially, within the system, and exercises restraint and respect.

I have no idea how this looked to his fellow exiles.  On the one hand, he’s seeming to collaborate with the enemy conquerors.  On the other hand, he has little choice – cooperate or die. He sees an opportunity to serve God, even in exile; and he grabs it with both hands, rather than choosing to be truculent or to wait for ideal circumstances to once more present themselves.

One of the most astounding things is that he makes an effort to save the lives of the king’s diviners. As a devout Jew, Daniel would have naturally spurned any person dabbling in the occult.  It’s possible that such persons would have been prolific in Jerusalem before he left, sanctioned by one bad Jewish king after another, but it’s also likely that Daniel would have seen these guys as his spiritual as well as natural enemies.  How much spooky-power they actually held is beyond my knowledge; some occultists are blatant fakers and others are, scarily, not.  I’m not sure if these “Chaldeans”were men of political power as well as spiritual interpreters; it would be interesting if, among them, were some of Darius’ future 120 satraps, who eventually entrapped Daniel & had him fed to the lions.  If so, it wouldn’t be hard to top that sort of spirit with any kind of excellence!

So … Daniel dealt with Nebuchadnezzar circumspectly (which was pretty smart, given that Neb was highly impulsive, explosive, and forgetful of which side his spiritual bread was buttered on).  Nobody seems to know where Daniel was on the day that his three friends took passive resistance before the statue & the fiery furnace.  Yet Daniel wasn’t short on courage.  He gave Neb the interpretations of two dreams, both of them having a negative prediction for the king.  That would have taken enormous guts.  You just don’t tell the ruler of the known world that, for all his glitter, he is about to come to a sticky end, or any end at all.  Weren’t ancient kings supposed to consider themselves, at least on a denial level, as immortal?  And you sure don’t tell him that after he and his progressively lamer successors are dead and gone, a “rock” will become greater even than his “golden” kingdom. (Note: a rock sculpted by God will always trump gold sculpted by man!)

As for the next king, Daniel dealt with Belshazzar directly: “You knew about God’s dealings with your predecessor and you didn’t take warning.”  Belshazzar had two choices then: behead Daniel for his impudence, or reward Daniel for his insight as promised.  Was he saving face in light of his promise?  Or did he take God seriously and see his end approaching? He was killed that very night.  I wonder if he gave Daniel his promotion that night because he had nothing left to lose, or in a subtle attempt to earmark Daniel as someone allied with the soon-to-be ousted, and therefore about to be a wanted man.  Or maybe he was simply dead drunk

At any rate Darius, the next king, was an economical sort of guy – he kept Daniel on and kept him high in the chain of command.  This is why I wonder if he kept the Chaldean astrologers on as well.  But wth Darius, Daniel was quietly and unobtrusively defiant.  By this time in the story, Daniel and his God have a track record of accuracy and mutuality.  Daniel is more or less untouchable, politically and morally.  As a child I wondered why he didn’t simply skip his prayers for a month.  I knew I could.  I’m guessing now that Daniel was so entwined with God that this was unthinkable.  It was less a dare than an impossibility.  He didn’t have any Jewish props – not even his own name, most of the time – to keep him feeling connected to God.  Abandoning prayer, the last bastion, was out of the question.

By now, Daniel is fairly old, and he’s been “doing the right thing” by his captors for decades.  He’s lived through the sacking of his home town, the slaughter of his royal family, the destruction of theTemple (which symbolised the Jews’ link to God and access to forgiveness), the assault on his personal identity as a believer, the long-term unanswerability of returning to Israel, the appropration of sacred relics by pagan idiots, and the reigns of two other Babylonian kings.  He’s seen God come through for his friends.  He’s proved God’s intimate interest in His servants and His intervention in historical affairs.  He might have been “over it”.  “You guys do what you wantand make whatever laws you want; I’m going to my room.  I have a link to God still, despite your looting, and I will be (quite literally) damned if you’ll take it from me.”

If Daniel can’t help himself but worship God, his great Addiction, God can’t help Himself either. He allows the Temple to be razed – a symbolic destruction of His relationship with Israel.  Yet instead of calling it quits, He can’t help but be a Father.  When His kids are carted off to Babylon … He follows.

The most telling thing for me is the statement the Chaldeans make in Chapter 1 when asked to not only interpret but recount a lost dream: “A rare and weighty thing indeed the king requries!  None except the gods can reveal it to the king, and their dwelling is not with human flesh.”  This is the bottom of the matter: our God did make His home with human flesh! First in theTabernacle. Then in the Temple. In the affairs of His people. In the fiery furnace. In the Incarnation. In the indwelling Holy Spirit. And finally, He will make His home with us in the New Jerusalem. No matter what man destroys, they will never keep our God from us. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. 

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