Wednesday, 3 December 2014

(338) December 4: Daniel 1-2 & 1 John 2

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.

Read Daniel 1-2 & 1 John 2

To discover:­
As you read consider what is commendable about Daniel’s interaction with his oppressors.

To ponder:
1v1-2 dates Daniel’s exile to 605BC (see 2 Kgs 24v1-7). The book opens with a time of despair for Judah. Not only was her king exiled, but articles from the temple put in the treasure house of the Babylonian god, implying his supremacy. Nebuchadnezzar also orders some of the royal and noble Israelites to be brought to serve in his palace. They were physically and intellectually the best, and were taught Babylonian language and literature, assigned food and wine from the king’s table, and put into a three year training program. Among these were Daniel and his friends, who were also given Babylonian names that incorporated the names of Babylonian gods (1v3-7). The point is that their Jewish identity was under threat, and it would have been very easy to feel forsaken by God and embrace all things Babylonian, forgetting him – just as can be the temptation in our culture. We should note also that Babylon is “Shinar” (see footnote) where the tower of Babel was built (Gen 11v2). So Nebuchadnezzar is effectively seeking to usurp God by reversing his judgement of scattering humanity and confusing the languages of the world.
            Yet Daniel had limits. Although he accepted much of this, he refused to take the food and wine. He may have been concerned the meat had blood in it, but his primary reason couldn’t have been Jewish food laws as he was permitted wine. Rather, the stress on this being royal provision suggests he felt taking the best from the king’s table would defile him by implying friendship and allegiance with the king. We should note that Daniel engages with the Babylonian official in charge of these things with shrewd tact and not demanding triumphalism. And we immediately see God has not abandoned the faithful amongst his people, as he caused the official to show favour to Daniel and his friends. The official is however concerned that he would be called to account if Daniel’s appearance suffered, so Daniel persuaded him to test them by giving them only vegetables and water for ten days. This was a bold act of faith. And, again, God proved faithful, as after this period they looked healthier than all others (1v8-16). The lesson seems to be that although we might have to work as part of a culture or organisation we don’t wholly agree with, we can do it, but we should not compromise our faith, and would be wise to ensure our activity doesn’t give the impression that we condone what is wrong. Moreover, it encourages us that when doing so might put our security at risk, God is well able to cause things to go smoothly.
            1v18-21 records how the men were presented to the king and found to be superior to all others, entering his service and displaying a wisdom and understanding that was ten times better than that of all the magicians and enchanters. Once more, God was showing himself to be with the faithful from his people – just as he was with Joseph in Egypt. Moreover, this would encourage the Jews more generally to settle and serve Babylon (as Jer 29v4-7). The note that Daniel remained there until the time of Cyrus (539BC) shows that by God’s hand he even outlived the mighty Nebuchadnezzar.
            Chapter 2 records the first of Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams. In the ancient world, dreams were assumed to be means of communicating with the gods. Nebuchadnezzar called in all his magicians, but tested them by saying they had to both tell him what his dream was and interpret it, promising reward and honour if they did, but death and destruction if they didn’t (2v1-9). Their response is key: They claim no man can do this, but only the gods who do not live amongst men (2v10). Nebuchadnezzar therefore ordered the death of all his wise men, including Daniel and his friends. But again, without panicking, Daniel engaged the guard with wisdom and tact, ascertaining what had happened. He then urged his friends to pray to God for mercy so they might not be executed, and it was in this context that the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a night-time vision. Daniel then praises God for his wisdom, power and sovereignty even over the rising and falling of kings, stressing it is God alone who knows and reveals what is hidden (2v11-23). It’s a reminder of the true nature of God, when it is also assumed today that if there is a God, that he doesn’t communicate and doesn’t govern all that happens. Like Daniel, we should engage with these presuppositions with wisdom and tact, but glorifying God for coming to live amongst us in Christ.
            What follows displays a conflict of worldviews. Daniel intercedes even for the other wise men, asking the executioner not to kill them. And when facing the king, he takes no credit to himself, stating he has not greater wisdom than others, but has the answer only because there really is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries to men (2v24-30). This would encourage the exiles as it should us, that our God is the true God.
            The king’s dream was of an enormous and awesome statute that represented four key kingdoms, implying to the reader that like an idol they sought for themselves what was only truly God’s (2v31-38). The gold head represents Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom. Daniel states that he is supreme as king of kings, but only because God has given him this dominion, power and glory. He is presented like Adam, ruling over mankind, beasts and birds. Humanity’s descent from Adam is the basis for all human government, but reminds us it was always to be exercised in a way that imaged and honoured God. The other three kingdoms are said to come one-after the other (2v39-40). So although a few think the inferior second kingdom (the chest and arms of silver) could be Media, which existed concurrently with that of Babylon, it is most probably Medo-Persia under Darius (see 5v30-31, and explanation of chapter 7). This makes the third Greece (the belly and thighs of bronze) that is said to rule the whole earth. Many think the fourth (the legs of iron with feet of iron and clay) is Rome. But Daniel is speaking to Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon; and it was the Seleucid Empire, that stemmed from the Greek, which was the next to have dominion over Babylon (see the arguments in notes on chapter 7). This is said to break what remains of the previous three, maintaining a degree of strength, but ultimately being marked by division (2v41-43, just as many provinces eventually declared independence of the Empire).
            Nebuchadnezzar also saw a rock not cut out by human hands, that demolished the whole statue by smashing the feet. The pieces were then blown away without trace like worthless chaff, whilst the rock became a mountain that filled the earth. Daniel states that this is an everlasting kingdom from God will be established in some sense during “the time” of the kings of these four kingdoms, and that will crush them all in crushing the fourth (2v44-45). The sense here is unclear. But this action towards even the kingdoms long superceded implies this may not be a reference to Christ per se, but to God beginning to pave the way for Christ’s reign by bringing these previous kingdoms to an end (as 7v11-14). Whatever the case, the point in Daniel is that as God’s people suffer under the various kingdoms, they can be confident that they will pass, and God’s eternal kingdom will be established and eventually overcome whatever oppressive powers remain in the world. They should therefore ensure they are part of it – just as we should. Daniel stresses what he has said is trustworthy and true (2v31-45), and this is confirmed as we read in hindsight. 2.4 billion people today (a third of the world) confess faith in Christ, with a Christian presence in almost every country.
            Nebuchadnezzar responds by offering Daniel what seems to be worship, but perhaps in acknowledgement of God, who he affirms as the God of gods, Lord of kings and revealer of mysteries. He then gave Daniel gifts, made him ruler over all Babylon and its wise men, and appointed his friends as administrators. Again, we see God is with his people, and proving he governs the hearts of even the greatest kings,
Praying it home:                                                    
Praise God that he is sovereign over all, and reveals his will to us. Pray for wisdom in how you engage with non-Christians in the workplace and in government.

Thinking further:
To read the NIV Study Bible introduction to Daniel click here.

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