As I have read through the book of Daniel, it seemed obvious that there were a number of observations that could be helpful and relevant, not only to me, but to our organization. So what I outline here are a few thoughts based upon my reflections.
Some background. As is usual for critical commentators, there is a difference of opinion about who wrote the book of Daniel. Was there such a historical person and, if so, did he write the book, or were there “two Daniels”? In addition, the first 6 chapters seem quite different than the last six, so were there “two books” as well as two Daniels? And so on.
At the time of the writing of Daniel the Jews were suffering under the persecution and oppression of a pagan king. We read that in the 3rd year when Jehoakim was king of Judah, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon attacked Jerusalem. Jehoiakim was captured, as well as some of the temple treasures and some prisoners, who were taken back to Babylon.
The people who feature prominently in the story are Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, later given the cultural names of Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego. These four young men were among those chosen by Ashpenaz, the chief official of the king, to serve the king. All of these young men were of a privileged class, born of Israelite royal and noble families.
The young men chosen had to be handsome (physical), intelligent (mental), well-trained (disciplined), quick to learn and free from physical defects. They were picked so that they could eventually serve in the royal court.
Their first task was to learn to read and write the Babylonian language. As Isrealites, they would have to first be enculturated into the Babylonian culture by studying the language. So, despite their personal and positive characteristics, they would have to serve a three year training period before they were ready for their appointment. [The king obviously knew that they would remain as Jews in outlook unless they had this kind of enforced cross-cultural training and indoctrination. Prisoners who were taken into captivity could redeem themselves to some extent by being successful in their court duties.]
The king wanted the training to be successful, so the king’s court official allowed them the best food and wine, the same as the members of the royal court had. However, Daniel and his friends were Jews and they knew that they would defile themselves if they ate the pagan food and wine of the king. So, in the case of his core beliefs, Daniel would not compromise. These beliefs included not only what he ate and drink, but also the manner in which he worshipped God. We read that “Daniel made up his mind,” i.e., it was something that he knew forced him to make a decision about. He did not mindlessly go into another culture and assume that he had to do everything that was done there in order to be accepted. He also knew what would be a personal compromise.
Daniel makes a deal with the chief official, a compromise after all. But it goes like this: “Try us for ten days, just on vegetables and water. Then compare us with the other young men.” Daniel is convinced in his own mind that the water and vegetables will be enough. And apparently 10 days out of a 3 year training period seems like a small compromise to Ashpenaz.
[Maybe this is what our organizations should say to those who want shorter, up-front training: Let’s try training them for 3 months; if these students are more successful than the longer-term trained ones, then we will know that it is acceptable. But of course our leaders don’t say that. They, however, now imply that in three months (or less) you can do the work if you will have royal consultants on hand to feed you the royal food you missed when you were trained in three months.
Daniel and his friends did so well that the official showed them special favor and sympathy. He obviously evaluated their skills and understanding, their physical presence, and so on. He did not simply take their word for it.
It was God, of course, who gave the four young men special skills. They demonstrated knowledge and understanding, including the Babylonian literature and reasoning (philosophy) that was beyond their own understanding. And God gave Daniel the skill to interpret dreams and visions as well. The gifts were extraordinary, more than a product of his own knowledge.
At the end of the three year study program the young men were given a final comprehensive exam, an oral exam, not a multiple choice. The king talked with them and he was impressed more by them than by any others. [Ora comprehensive exams are nerve racking and require a lot of preparation. I know—I had them for my MA and PhD degrees.]
There comes a time—in God’s plan—when Daniel’s gifts are needed. The king has a dream and he wants to be told both the dream and its interpretation. This is despite that fact that the astrologers have said “There is not a man on earth who can do what the king asks.” It is an unprecedented demand: “no great and mighty king has ever asked for such a thing from any magicians, enchanter, or astrologer” (1:10). The king’s consultants try to gain the upper edge: “Tell us the dream and we will interpret it.” But the king wants the whole package and if his wise men can’t provide the help, what value are they?
Daniel and his friends will be executed with the others. However, Daniel knows the king well enough that he can approach him and ask for time (1:16). He then goes to his friends and urges them to plead to God for mercy so that the mystery of the dream will be revealed. [Note that Daniel does not attempt to answer the question alone, he appeals to both God and to his friends.
During the night God reveals the vision to Daniel and he immediately (before contacting the king) offers a prayer of praise to God (2:20-23). It gives acclamation to:
- The wisdom and power of god, eternal in his nature—it is beyond anything that Daniel could do.
- One way that God establishes and destroys earthly powers—we—see this clearly for this and subsequent dreams.
- How wisdom is given to the wise and knowledge to the discerning.
- How deep and hidden things can be and are revealed.
- An example God’s own personal wisdom and power.
- The answer to the prayers of Daniel and his friends.
Basically Daniel’s prayer is in terms of the gifts from God in allowing us to understand the mysteries of his ways.
Daniel interprets the dream and in doing so he provides a testimony to the king that only God could reveal its mystery (2:27, 28) God has been gracious to show the king what will happen in the future, so Daniel gives the revelation in confidence, knowing that it came from God.
As a result of the interpretation the king praises Daniel’s God and places Daniel in a high position, giving him many gifts as well. Daniel is careful to remember his friends who are also rewarded. However, it is not long before the king forgets the God of Daniel and builds an image which the people are commanded, at a given sign, to worship (3:4). If they don’t, they will be killed in a blazing furnace.
Daniel’s three friends do not worship the image and are reported to the king. He has them brought before him and gives them another chance. Their answer: “The God we serve is able to save us, but even if he doesn’t we want you to know that we will not serve your gods or worship your image (3:17, 18). [The “even if he doesn’t” is a good qualifier. Even if God doesn’t do certain things that we expect or pray for, we will not stop worshiping him.]
We know what follows—they are thrown into a fire that is 7 times as hot as usual. However, they are not alone in the fire and they come out unharmed (3:27) Again, the king praises their God and decrees that no one, regardless of nation or language, can say anything against their God. In addition, he promotes them in Babylon. In this way the knowledge of God spreads to other pagan nations and the godliness of the men is recognized by the king.
Soon the king has another dream, and this one he attributes to the “Supreme God”. It takes place while he was “living comfortably in his palace and enjoying great prosperity.” But this dream is so frightening that he appeals to advisors, fortunetellers, magicians, wizards and astrologists, the whole lot. Finally, he appeals to Daniel as the “chief of fortunetellers” and, for good luck, he mixes in an appeal to the Jewish God as well, observing “I know that the spirit of the holy gods is in him” (4:8).
Again, we are familiar with the story. The dream is about a tree that grows and grows, “reaching the sky,” seen by everyone. It is laded with fruit, a haven for birds and animals. But an “alert and watchful” angel declares that the tree is to be cut down and only a stump will be left, showing where it once stood. The focus of the angel then shifts and we learn later that when Daniel interprets the dream the king will become insane for seven years and live like an animal. The purpose of this is so “all people everywhere will know that the Supreme God has power over human kingdoms and that he can give them to anyone that he chooses” (4:17).
Daniel reiterates what the angel alludes to and tells the king to “stop sinning, do what is right, and be merciful to the poor. Then you will continue to be prosperous.” We are told that the king goes insane for seven years, then regains his senses and praises God in terms of his everlasting rule, his control of all people, circumstances and his purpose (4:34-35). He proclaims it like this: “And now, I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise, honor, and glorify the king of heaven. Everything he does is right and just, and he can humble anyone who acts proudly.”
That is as far as we will go in the story. In what follows, Belshazzar, son or grandson of the king Nebuchadnezzar sees handwriting on the wall and Daniel is finally called to the scene and repeats the same message to the next generation. “You have not humbled yourself…. You did not honor God who holds you in his hand, your life and all your ways” (5:22-23).
There are a number of things that I believe are relevant to our organizations regarding our present circumstances and work:
- We can be glad that V2025 is not a direct revelation from God to any one of us or to our leader(s). If it were, we would not be as likely to take it or leave it, or try to justify our actions in the light of it. The visions that Daniel spoke about were given to leaders as warnings. We can be thankful that V2025 is one of our own choosing and interpretation. If it were not, we could expect God to interact with us in some very unusual and perhaps unpleasant ways.
- God raises up particular people to be his representatives in every age and situation. If they are men of God (or women of God), they can be outsiders—like Daniel was. But they have to take the time to learn the culture and language before there services can be performed for government officials and accepted with any confidence. Who would have listened to Daniel if he continued to be perceived as a Jewish person?
- It took time for Daniel to be well prepared and serve the king in his royal court. And it was appropriate and proper to test him to see if he was prepared. We can also note that some individuals are better than others in terms of their abilities, even looks.
- God provides the special abilities that are beyond even the best of natural talents and abilities—we can count on God for that.
- We must always remember who is in charge and praise him. Even Darius the Mede, who succeeded Belshazzar, knew this when he saw that Daniel and his friends were safe from the lions in the den. We conclude by noting His message to all nations, races and languages of the earth (6;25-28):
- He is a living God
- He will rule forever
- His kingdom will never be destroyed
- His power will never come to an end
- He saves and rescues
- He performs wonders and miracles everywhere
- He saved Daniel from being killed by the lions.
From the most general instance to the least: God is alive, he rules, and he always will. He demonstrates this by rescuing us and performing wonders everyday everywhere.