There is so much to talk about with the beginning of Daniel! It’s an exciting and profoundly encouraging book; let’s dive right in, shall we?
How did Daniel and friends get into Babylon?
Although many of you already know how Daniel got to Babylon, others may not. Early in Babylon’s rule over Judah, king Nebuchadnezzar ordered that some of the nobles and especially some of their young men be taken to Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar’s apparent plan was to educate and acculturate these young men in Babylonian law, Babylonian religion, Babylonian customs, Babylonian language and writing, and Babylonian literature in hopes of ultimately returning them to their conquered homeland to rule them with native credentials, but Babylonian minds and hearts. Daniel (Belteshazzar was his Babylonian name, see v. 7), Hananiah (Shadrach, his Babylonian name), Mishael (Meshach, his Babylonian name), and Azariah (Abednego, his Babylonian name) were among the young men taken into captivity for this educational and cultural “make-over”. Daniel, to jump ahead in the story, was promoted to high places of responsibility, governance, and prestige and served well over 70 years past the Babylonian empire and into the first several years of the Persian empire.
Trouble with the menu
Prisoners, even ones being treated with an education, don’t get to choose their menus under ordinary circumstances. Daniel and his friends were definitely being treated well, because they were eating from the king’s own table, like every other “student” from the other conquered corners of Babylon’s empire, but Daniel and company had some issues with the menu. Although we are not given specifics about why the variety of a king’s banquet was a problem for them, we can make some guesses. We know that eating vegetables wasn’t a problem, since that is what Daniel asked for; so it had to do with the meat: 1) what meat was served was not properly bled and therefore might have been bloodier than God’s law would allow, 2) the meats might have been offered to the gods of the Babylonians and therefore forbidden, 3) it might be that eating with Gentiles was the problem, or 4) the meats may have all been unclean animals. They also asked for water rather than wine, possibly because the wine had been offered to the gods also as a libation offering. But regardless of the specific reason, Daniel and friends did the right thing by asking for food and drink that would not defile them. This was a great risk for them and their supervisor, but because of God’s favor and blessing Daniel and company actually looked healthier than the other “students” that ate everything from the king’s table. Indeed, when the final tests and interviews were given, Daniel and friends were appraised to be the top of their class by a wide margin (10 times better than even the most experienced, 1:20). They were considered so intelligent that instead of being sent back to Judah as rulers, they were taken into the king’s personal service. There is little doubt that Daniel and his friends were smart before their obedient conduct, but they were also clearly blessed because of their courageous and faithful stand. Neither Daniel nor his friends knew how things were going to turn out for them, but they were willing to do what was right and let the pieces fall where they may. There’s an important lesson of courage and faithfulness here for us too, for life at work, at school, or in the neighborhood. Do what’s right and let what happens happen.
Crisis and promotion
But not too long after Daniel was taken into the king’s service the king had a troubling dream. Probably suspecting that the magicians, conjurers, and other soothsayers had the tendency to make it up as they went along, yet wanting a genuine answer about this dream, Nebuchadnezzar demanded that his wise men go beyond the usual interpretation of the dream, but tell him what the dream actually was. The king reasoned that if they could know this, they could give a genuine interpretation. But nobody had ever asked such a thing of the wise men and they were stumped. Nebuchadnezzar threatened that if no one could tell him the dream with its interpretation, all the wise men would die — including Daniel. When this news reached Daniel, he told the king to give him a little time to pray to his God who was the giver and interpreter of dreams. Nebuchadnezzar allowed the time and Daniel, giving full credit to the LORD, told the king both the dream and its interpretation.
The dream was the relatively famous one of the statue with the golden head, silver chest and arms, bronze belly and thighs, and iron legs with iron/clay feet. The interpretation was a time table for God’s scheme of redemption, speaking of four empires starting with Babylon itself (the golden head), the Persian empire (the silver chest and arms), the Greek empire (bronze belly and thighs), and the Roman empire (iron legs and iron/clay feet). The finale of the dream was a stone that grows into a mountain which crushes them all, speaking of the kingdom of God to come in the days of the fourth (Roman) empire.
This dream and its inspired interpretation speaks to a couple of modern religious positions in error. First, it contradicts the liberal theologies that are inclined to discredit miracles and predictive prophecy. Liberal religionists find so much evidence for predictive prophecy here and later in Daniel that they tend to date the actual writing of Daniel to deep into the Greek empire — as late as 150 BC. I guess that’s all you can do, if you don’t believe that God can predict the future so accurately. But it would seem unlikely that a writer of the second century would write in Aramaic (the official language of state used in the Persian period) using a number of Persian loan words. There are some other loan words in the text from Greek, but these could easily be explained as an editor’s attempt to “translate” the work for readers who understood Greek terms but not the Aramaic terms for things like instruments and even the wise men (called Chaldeans in Daniel). Daniel’s accurate understanding of Babylonian and Persian politics likewise goes well beyond what could be expected of a later writer. God sculpts the future according to His plan and purpose; Daniel wasn’t history being written after the “prophesied” events, but predictive prophecy written before it ever happened.
Secondly, there is a theology known as premillennialism which claims that the kingdom of God was always intended to be a physical kingdom on this earth. As we have already noted a couple of times in this blog, Jesus contradicts this claim in John 18:36. But in this passage we find more evidence: God predicted that the kingdom would come in the days of the fourth empire, the Roman empire. The spiritual kingdom of God, the church of Christ, did come in the days of the Romans. Daniel (God) was right; premillennialists were wrong.
When Daniel’s revelation of the dream was deemed true, and his interpretation deemed correct, he was elevated to head of the wise men. I focus on this relatively small point to make this point, that with Daniel at the head of the wise men, the magi, it is possibly and even probable that he made a prediction for them about a star that would appear and what it would mean. Many commentators have wondered about the purpose of the story of the wise men in the book of Matthew — What place does a story of Gentile astrologers have in story of the Jewish Messiah? The fact that Daniel himself was a revered magi leader, I believe, lent extra credence to the claim of Jesus as Israel’s (and the world’s) Messiah. They were probably following up on a prediction of Daniel himself.
Let it be known
Lastly, the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego is a famous one and has a great point for us all. As Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego faced the fiery furnace they didn’t know how things would fall — they appear to have fully expected to die — but they did what was right. I love what could have been their final words, (Daniel 3:17, 18) “If it be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire; and He will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O king, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” Do what’s right and let the pieces fall where they may.
See you tomorrow, Lord willing.