September 4, 2015.
Daily Reading: Daniel 1-6.
Background: The book of Daniel is set in the time period just after the fall of Jerusalem to Babylon and continues on through the Medo-persian era. It makes mention of Kings Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar of Babylon and Kings Darius and Cyrus of the Median/Persian reign. The book is divided into two different sections by content, the first six chapters that tell different stories pertaining to Daniel and his fellow brethren with him, and the second half of the book, chapters 7-12, recording different prophetic visions of Daniel. The book is recorded in two different languages, Hebrew for chapter 1 and chapters 8-12, and Aramaic for chapters 2-7. The Greek manuscripts of scripture contain a longer version of Daniel, including the Prayer of Azariah and Song of the Three Holy Children, the story of Susanna and the Elders, and the story of Bel and the Dragon. These three stories are not in the Hebrew manuscripts of the text, but they were accepted by all of Christendom until the protestant reformation. They remain in Catholic and orthodox bibles, as well as the Apocrypha. The overall message of the book of Daniel is one of deliverance, where the Lord delivers those who are of Him.
Concepts and Connections.
Daniel’s faithfulness: The book of Daniel opens in the time period of Jehoiakim, king of Judah, as Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it (see II Kings 24:1-7). After a successful siege, Nebuchadnezzar commanded that the best of the land be exported to Babylon, among whom were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah of the tribe of Judah. Each would be given a different name by the king of Babylon (Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, respectively) and were to be taught the literature and language of the Chaldeans. We learn about Daniel’s faith and commitment to the Lord here in the first chapter as we find him doing all that he can to not defile himself with the king’s food and wine. Apparently, the food and drink that was being given to the young men in training for the king was unclean by the Law of Moses (see Leviticus 3:17 and Leviticus 11), and Daniel wanted to be sure he was not doing things contrary to the Law. Though the chief of the eunuchs, who was in charge of Daniel and his companions, wanted to be lenient, he feared that if he did not feed them the meat from the king, the youths would not appear healthy before the king and he would be blamed. But Daniel turned to the Lord, trusting Him to provide, and told the eunuch to test them by giving them only vegetables and water for 10 days and then comparing them to the rest of the youths from other lands. Indeed, the Lord provided, and Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah appeared even healthier and fatter than the other youths, and thus they were allowed to continue to eat only vegetables and water so as to not defile themselves. All four of them grew in learning and wisdom, and Daniel was given the ability to interpret dreams. When they were brought before Nebuchadnezzar, he found them ten times wiser than all the magicians and enchanters of the land, and they stood before the king. Daniel’s faith and trust in the Lord had been confirmed by the Almighty.
The four kingdoms and the Kingdom of God: In chapter two this book we get a very interesting story and an intriguing prophecy that is revealed in a dream to Nebuchadnezzar and the interpretation is given to Daniel. Before this happens, however, the king calls for any of his wise men of the land to tell him both the dream and the interpretation. They were to tell him the dream so that he would know that they could accurately show him the interpretation, and if they couldn’t tell him the dream, they would be torn limb from limb. Nebuchadnezzar was a ruthless king. The magicians, the enchanters, the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans of the land could not believe that they were being asked to do such a thing, as no king before Nebuchadnezzar had asked his servants to do it. But the king grew even more angry, assuming that they were just buying time, and when no one could tell him his dream, he ordered that all the wise men of the land be executed. When the news gets around to Daniel about the wise men being killed, he requests a time to stand before the king and then goes to Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah and asks them to pray about the matter. It is noteworthy to point out that the first thing Daniel did when he found himself in crisis was go to the Lord. The Lord provided, revealing the dream and interpretation to Daniel in a vision of the night, and Daniel praised the Lord most high. He then went before the king to tell him the dream and the interpretation, but he first makes it abundantly clear that it wasn’t his own wisdom that had given him this revelation, but rather the God of Heaven who had revealed the mystery to him, the mystery of things to come.
Nebuchadnezzar had a dream of a statue composed of four distinct parts, a head of gold, chest of silver, legs of iron and feet of partly iron and partly clay. Each of these corresponds to a kingdom that was to come: Babylon, Medo-persian, Greece and Roman. Note the extraordinary details that are associated with this prophecy, showing that it was from the Lord, especially in the third and fourth kingdoms. The third kingdom was said that it would rule over the earth, a feat accomplished by Alexander the Great of Greece, conquering the known world. Then the fourth description fits Rome to a tee, noting the strength of the kingdom, but also the weakness that would eventually destroy it. However, the most important part of this prophecy is the stone that was cut out by no human hand and struck the statue, breaking it to pieces. This was the kingdom of God that He would establish in the days of the fourth kingdom (v. 44), a kingdom that would stand forever. This is the kingdom of God, the church that was established my Christ in the days of the Roman empire (see Matthew 3:2, 16:16, Luke 1:33 and John 18:36). The Lord had made known to Nebuchadnezzar and all those who could hear what was going to happen in the times to come, and we have this prophecy to look back at and see the omniscience of God and to build our faith in Him.
The fiery furnace: After Daniel tells Nebuchadnezzar his dream and its interpretation, we take a break from the spotlight of Daniel for a bit and focus in on Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, or as they are probably better know by, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (their Babylonian names given to them when they were exiled to the king’s service). In this chapter, we see that Nebuchadnezzar set up a golden image and commanded everyone in the land to fall down and worship it when they heard the signal of the music of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and more. In a polytheistic nation, this would have been no problem, for the people were used to worshipping other gods and would likely not have thought a lot about worshiping another. However, for Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, this was a big problem, as they served the One true God who had said to worship no other god beside Him (see Exodus 20:3-4). Their lack of worship to this false god would have likely gone unnoticed, however, if they had not been put into the positions that they had been (see Daniel 2:49), which prompted the jealousy of those who were not promoted to this position. Leadership is not typically obtained without placing a target on your head. Thus, when Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego didn’t fall down and worship the image, the Chaldeans told Nebuchadnezzar of their disobedience and he became furious. Note the courage of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego when they stood before the king. They were not willing to compromise a command of the Lord for the law of the man, even when he threatened them with death. We see Nebuchadnezzar’s pride come out here (as will play an important role in the next chapter) when he says “Who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?” He would get his answer. They told the king that their God was indeed able to deliver them from the fiery furnace, but what is perhaps even more astounding is what they said afterwards. They knew God could deliver them, but even if He didn’t, they would not worship the golden image. Their faith was not hinged on the Lord’s deliverance, but rather in the Lord Himself. Perhaps it would not be His will to deliver them, they didn’t know. But they did know that He was the Lord, and He was the only God to be served.
Thus they were thrown in to a furnace that was ordered to be heated seven times what it normally burned at, a temperature so high that it killed the men that threw them in the furnace. Nebuchadnezzar what struck by what happened next. He had thrown three men into the furnace, but there were four, unbound, walking in the midst of the fire. The fourth is said to have the appearance of a “son of the gods.” There have been speculations as to who this fourth person is, whether it be an angel or the pre-incarnate Christ, but the message is the same: God had delivered them. Nebuchadnezzar called Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego out of the furnace to see that not a hair of their head was signed, nor were any of their garments affected by the fire. Then he blessed the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, and commanded that no one speak ill of their God, lest they be torn limb from limb. The Lord’s deliverance had come, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were promoted, and the Holy One of Israel had been glorified.
The humbling of Nebuchadnezzar: In this chapter we get a very interesting story told from a somewhat different perspective than the rest of the book, the perspective of Nebuchadnezzar. The chapter opens with Nebuchadnezzar praising the Lord, the God of Israel, but we aren’t told why just yet. If we were just to look at the immediate context, we might be tempted to say that Nebuchadnezzar has finally learned his lesson in the previous chapters that the God of Israel is the Most High. However, this is not the reason for his praising, as we have seen and will continue to see that though he acknowledges the God of Israel, and at times even blesses Him, he does not worship Him in place of his other gods. Nebuchadnezzar’s praising of the Lord God here actually comes from the Lord’s humbling of him. Nebuchadnezzar had grown to be a king over many nations, and his kingdom was both large and powerful (though it should be noted that this was because the Lord had given him this power, see Jeremiah 25:9, 27:6 and 43:10). But his pride was going to lead to his humbling, as the Lord sent him a vision in a dream, a dream that was interpreted by Daniel.
Notice the way Daniel breaks the news gently, as he is troubled about the interpretation for a while (as Nebuchadnezzar could easily kill him for an unfavorable interpretation), and he says that he wished the interpretation was for the enemies of the king. Nebuchadnezzar encourages Daniel to tell him the interpretation, and the interpretation of the dream is pretty straightforward for this one: Nebuchadnezzar was the great tree that he saw in the dream that got cut down. He would be humbled before the Lord, driven mad to dwell in the wilderness with the beast of the field, eating grass like an ox, for seven periods of time. This was so that he would know that it is the Most High who rules and gives power to whom He wishes. The vision would not be fulfilled until a year later, as Nebuchadnezzar was walking on the roof of his royal palace and looked out and said, in essence, that he himself had built this mighty kingdom, by the hand of his own power. It was a statement that embodied his pride. Before the words even left his mouth, the Lord fulfilled the vision he had given him a year ago, and he was driven into the wilderness. After seven periods of time passed over him, his reason returned to him and he praised the Most High God. This is what we opened with at the beginning of this chapter, and his praise is continued here at the end. It seems, finally, that this lesson of humility from the Lord has gotten through to Nebuchadnezzar as he praises, extols and honors the King of heaven who is able to humble those who walk in pride.
The hand writing on the wall: As Babylon took over the known world at that time, there were people from all tribes and cultures that were brought to the King when he needed help. Daniel was one of the wise men chosen from the Jews; he gained special recognition when he was able to interpret a dream that king Nebuchadnezzar had, prophesying about the four world kingdoms that were to come. However, as is usually the case, when Nebuchadnezzar died, his son Belshazzar took over and forgot all about what his father had done, how he had become crazy (as prophesied by Daniel) and then returned to his mind, praising the one true God of Israel, and had not heard of Daniel, the wise man of God. Belshazzar decides that it would be a great idea to throw this huge party for 1,000 of his lords, with all the stops. There was great food and a lot of wine. Needless to say, it was a drunken party. In his inebriated state, Belshazzar calls for the vessels of gold and silver that his father had taken from the temple when they capture Judah to be brought to him and his friends. Everything is going great; then something strange happens- the fingers of a hand appeared out of thin air and wrote four words on the wall: Mene, Mene, Tekel and Parsin. As Belshazzar saw the hand writing on the wall, his face went pale white and his knees started knocking together. He was terrified, and rightly so. He called for all the wise men and sorcerers of the land to come and interpret the words that were written on the wall. He promised great wealth, even a position of third in the kingdom, if one could come and interpret the words. None could be found.
The the queen mother comes in and tells Belshazzar of a man who, in the days of his father Nebuchadnezzar, was a man full of the spirit of God and could interpret dreams, as he did on numerous occasions with his father- Daniel. Belshazzar called for Daniel to be brought to him. Daniel comes in to interpret the message, and Belshazzar offers him a purple robe the position in the kingdom upon his interpretation. Daniel says he can keep his rewards (probably because he knew what the words on the wall said), but that he would intrepert the words nonethless. First he reminds Belshazzar of his father and how in his arrogance he was humbled by God, but that Belshazzar has not followed suit. He then tells him that the hand was sent by God to write these words: “Mene, Mene, Tekel, and Parsin… Mene, God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end; Tekel, you have been weighed in the balances and found wanting; Peres, your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.” Belshazzar gives the rewards to Daniel, but it is too late for him. That night his kingdom was taken over by Darius the Mede.
1. The lion’s den: The first few chapters of this book convey very interesting and exciting stories about Daniel and his companion’s experiences. When we arrive at chapter six, the story continues to prove no less than extraordinary. Most people imagine Daniel as a young man when he is thrown into the lion’s den, but in reality he was probably quite old, which perhaps makes this story even more intriguing. We see that Daniel has made some enemies over the course his lifetime as a leader, not because he had done anything malicious towards them, but more so because they were jealous that the Lord had blessed him so in the kingdom. His enemies come up with a plan to trap Daniel by his daily routine. They knew that Daniel prayed to God with his window open towards Jerusalem (see I Kings 8:27-30), three times a day. Since they could find no other complaint against Daniel to make before the king, they set up this trap. They had changed the law to make it where Daniel was no longer allowed, at least for thirty days, to pray to God. How did Daniel react to this situation? He just kept on doing what he was doing in the first place. The story continues with his enemies exposing what Daniel did to the King, and the King, though reluctantly because he thought highly of Daniel, staying true to his word and throwing him into the lion’s den. God stopped the mouths of the lions (continuing to show the deliverance of God, as is the theme of the book overall) and after a day, Daniel was pulled out unharmed and his accusers were thrown in in his place ending the story on a spiritual victory.
2. Three lessons how to deal with persecution:
1. Daniel continued to do what he always did. The first thing that you might notice in this story is that when Daniel learns about the decree, he immediately goes home and prays just like he has always done. There was no change in behavior. He didn’t yield to the decree, even though it was only temporary. He didn’t worship the King as God, nor did he petition him as he would God. He simply went home and continued to do what he always had done, praying three times a day with his window open towards Jerusalem. To make application to us today, if we are pressured by the world to stop teaching or worshiping God in the way we are, we should be encouraged to disregard the teaching of the world and simply do what we have been doing. God stopped the mouth of the lions, and He can so protect us. That’s not to say that it is His will that we live through persecution, but only to say that it is well within His power to protect us if it is His will (see chapter three of Daniel for more insight on this).
2. Daniel did not throw a fit or put up resistance. The second thing we might notice about this story is very similar to the first. Daniel does not change his behavior after reading the decree. He simply does what he as always done. He doesn’t go before the King to make known to him that his enemies had just gotten him to sign the decree as a trap for Daniel. He doesn’t argue with his enemies who are setting the trap. He doesn’t become more outwardly righteous than he had before. He just follows his daily practice. Often, when we are met with opposition, our first step is to lash back. We call upon rights and fairness and we try to expose the weakness of the other side. Sometimes we do religious things simply out of spite, daring someone to say something to us about it. If they say something, we can get into an argument and expose the flaws in their stance. Daniel doesn’t do any of this. The only resistance that Daniel put up was to continue to do what he had done in respect to God. We should do the same. We should show the love of Christ to a lost and dying world. We are the light of the world. We should act like it.
3. Daniel did not hide what he did. Though I don’t believe we should show “how religious we are” out of spite or because there is opposition, I also do not think we should hide our spirituality. Daniel could have easily just closed his window when he prayed (though there was a reason he did not) to hide from the law. But he didn’t. He prayed openly in his home as his enemies knew he would, and he accepted the consequences. This goes back to us being the light of the world. We cannot be the light by hiding. There is a fine line between living out our Christianity and doing it for show, but we need to find that balance through humility and the glory of Christ.
Tomorrow’s Reading: John 3-4.
Praise the Lord for His deliverance.