It’s hard to wait for the end in a story you’ve invested a lot of time and energy keeping up with. It’s hard trusting that everything will work out the way you want it to, especially when the story is yours. And that’s just the thing that comes along today: whose story is it?
In the last month, we’ve worked through the warnings to the nation of Judah from Jeremiah the prophet, as well as the words to the exiles in Babylon from Ezekiel. We’ve seen the fall of Judah to Nebucchadnezzar and the aftermath for those who fled to Egypt and those who were taken captive to Babylon, (for the story of those who fled to Egypt, see https://iwantmore.blog/2020/10/23/october-23/).
In Daniel, the flow of history backs up, and we pick up with Jehoiakim, king of Judah, and Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, before the final collapse of Judah and after the second wave of captives has been taken. The year of this captivity is 597 BC, when Nebuchadnezzar is a relatively new king on the throne of Babylon (Guzik, http://enduringword.com/bible-commentary/daniel-1/).
Jehoiakim, if you’ll remember, was the king who cut off pieces of Jeremiah’s scroll and burned it as it was read to him. His hardness of heart comes back to bite him, since it’s because he refuses to humble himself before Nebuchadnezzar that Neb comes in and carts him off to Babylon, (for the story of burning the scroll, see https://iwantmore.blog/2020/10/20/october-20/).
The royal family of King Jehoiakim was captured along with him, as had others of the noble class. It’s from these folks–the royal family and the nobility–that king Nebuchadnezzar asks his official to get young men to train up in the literature and language of Babylon for the purpose of their future service to him. Daniel was one of those young men, along with his three friends from Judah, Da 1:3-4.
Besides people, Nebuchadnezzar also removed some of the gold articles used in worship in the temple of God in Jerusalem. He put them in the temple of his own god, an obvious statement to Judah and anyone else paying attention that “my god is more powerful than yours,” Da 1:2.
It was automatically presumed in that day that a conquering nation’s god was the more powerful one, not that the conquering nation itself was necessarily more so, (Guzik). Putting God’s temple articles in a pagan temple was arrogant and ignorant. Clearly, Nebuchadnezzar had no idea of Israel’s God, but because of Daniel, he’s about to get one.
And just as clearly, we see the line that is drawn in this well known story of Daniel and his three friends. In the second verse, Daniel writes, “And the Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand along with some of the articles from the temple of God,” Da 1:2. Nebuchadnezzar may have given glory to his god for this victory over Judah, but Daniel knows it was his God who gave it.
Daniel tells us as early as the second verse that this is God’s story, a story of learning who the God of Israel really is. Having heard this story as a child in Sunday School, it’s hard to read it with fresh eyes. But the God of Ancient Judah is the God of the Current Cosmos, who is always fresh and new. And it’s God who is the subject of this story, not Daniel, as amazing a man as Daniel is.
This change in the main character of this story from the way I’ve always read it helps me as I think it through all over again. Daniel didn’t write it as a story to motivate us to be like himself. He wrote it as a testimony to “the Lord [who] delivered,” so that like Daniel, we would fall down in worship, too.
Along with the education of these fine, young men from Judah, the king commanded that they be given food from his own table. We will soon see that Nebuchadnezzar is a determined, not-to-be-defied ruler, so refusing his food would have been unheard of. Not only was it considered to be the best food available, it should be eaten without question because the king commanded it.
But Daniel serves God. God said that his people weren’t to eat unclean foods, such as pork and food sacrificed to idols. There were strict rules about what was acceptable and what wasn’t. Babylon was known for being a city of many idols, so it was likely that the food had first been offered to idols as part of their worship and was reason for its rejection. To eat unclean food was considered to be disobedient to God and defilement of a person’s standing with him. For Daniel, eating the king’s food would equal giving up his relationship with God.
It would have been understandable if Daniel and his friends had enjoyed the king’s food, wouldn’t it? Taken from their homes as they were and living in a foreign country with a vastly different culture, it would have been tempting to throw off the culture and habits of home and look about for what there was to enjoy about their new situation.
But they didn’t. Daniel asked they be served vegetables and water rather than the food and wine of the king. When the official in charge of his food objects, saying the king will have his head if he mismanages these men, Daniel asks that he be allowed a 10-day test to see if the diet change has ill effect. We learn here that “God had caused the official to show favor and sympathy to Daniel,” Da 1:8-14.
The culture of Judah and its capital city, Jerusalem, had become as wicked and worldly–even more so–than their neighbors. God had said so through both Jeremiah and Ezekiel. But here were at least four young men who worshipped God for real. I’m guessing continuing to worship and seek after God in a new place would have felt steadying and grounding for them.
They were simply continuing what they had already been doing at home–obeying God and out of step in their culture. Daniel and his friends aren’t newly devoted to God: they’re seasoned at it. They’ve not just been going through the motions of religious duty back home. They’ve been truly worshipping the true God. Maybe some of Jeremiah’s words to the Israelites had born fruit in their hearts.
I’m guessing that Babylon’s temptations, even by way of its good food, didn’t grab hold of them because they’d already learned to refuse to go with the flow and follow the culture in Judah. Daniel’s devotion to God runs deep, even down to the food he eats. Sometimes it’s in the little things where our devotion to God is most clearly seen.
The fact that veggies and water made them visibly stronger than the other young men at the end of their 10-day test isn’t a testimony to the power of veggies and water, but to the God who gave them such robustness from a diet so drastically different from the rest in so little time. Ten days wouldn’t be enough time to see such a difference between them and the other young men had it been all-and-only about veggies vs meat.
But God’s power can be displayed in a moment. Ten days was plenty of time for that. Despite the fact that their diets were deficient in animal proteins and other nutrients, including dairy products and eggs, they looked more robust than the other men in only ten days.
On top of that, God gave these four men “knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds,” 1:15-17. After their three year educational period on veggies and water, the king examines these men and finds them to be beyond their peers in “every matter of wisdom and understanding,” more than ten times that of others he relied on in his kingdom, 1:18-20.
All of this brilliance attributed to veggies and water? I don’t think so. All of the glory is given to God. As Daniel himself writes, “To these four young men God gave…,” 1:16. Daniel consistently remembers who the main character is in his story.
In Psalm 92, the writer says that those who are planted in God’s house stay “fresh and green,” even in old age, and produce fruit. At a time when an aging body is dying down, how can it be fueled to produce more life–more fruit and praise, remaining fresh and green? 92:12-15. Only God can do such a thing.
The story continues.
King Nebuchadnezzar has a disturbing dream. He asks his “magicians, enchanters, sorcerers, and astrologers” to not only tell him what it means, he asks them to tell him the dream itself. They assure him no one could tell him his own dream, but he’s decided they’re making excuses to cover their deceit. They really don’t have the fortune telling goods if they can’t deliver a little dream, 2:1-11.
I’m struck with how committed Nebuchadnezzar is to finding truth anywhere and everywhere but from God. Surely he’s heard of Israel’s God since he’s just raided his temple. By this list of “spiritual professionals,” I’m guessing he’s pretty much covered every known worship go-to in his day–horoscopes and the stars, black magic, the casting of lots, evil spirits. All of these, but no one who would speak to him of God. He’s already decided God’s not a player, since his golden goblets are being used to drink wine in his god’s shrine.
Nebuchadnezzar is enraged by the response of his “wise men” that no one, anywhere can give him what he wants, except for the gods “and they don’t live with us.” He decrees that all the wise men in his kingdom be put to death, and the executioners come looking for Daniel and his friends along with all the rest. Daniel asks what’s going on “with wisdom and tact,” and petitions the king to give him time to come up with the dream, 2:11-16.
I like how Daniel pays attention. He finds out what’s up. He’s speaks up, he’s involved, and it pays off. With relational finesse, he gets an audience with the king, who gives him the night to find out the dream. Single handedly he delays the immediate executions of dozens of men. What does Daniel do next? He asks his friends to “plead for mercy from the God of heaven” so that “he and his friends might not be executed with the rest of the wise men of Babylon,” 2:17-18. I’m guessing he asks God for mercy, too.
And “during the night,” God revealed the king’s dream to him in a vision, 2:19. Daniel writes down his praise to God after. It’s all God’s doing, and he knows it. He’s not confused, feeling the afterglow of success because of anything he did, thinking that it’s because he’s devoted to God, or that he’s more in tune with God because of his perfect-diet righteousness.
He doesn’t mention himself at all. What Daniel says is full and unfettered praise and worship of God alone. I love how he’s completely confident that God will come through. And I love his dependence on God, too–a healthy balance of trust and humility.
God seems to do a lot of his connecting with people during the night. Samuel was called at night. God woke him up as a young boy to talk with him then, 1 Sa 3. Jacob wrestled with God all night long and didn’t let him go until daybreak, Ge 32:24-30. Jesus prayed often in the night, Lk 6:12. Many psalms mention the time of day, and it’s either during the night or the early morning they speak of, Ps 63:6; 77:6; 119:55.
My richest experiences with God have been at night, too. And I wonder, why at night? Maybe because the pain of the day seems to crown at night, so our need for God’s help is keenest then. But I guess it’s also because we’re not busy at night. We’re not going about our daily activities. We’re idle, receptive, and maybe in a mindset more conducive to faith and trust than we are once the sun comes up. For me, it feels like time actually stops. There are magical, unaccounted-for hours of extra time, (for a true story about meeting up with God at night, see http://onetruelove.blog/2019/12/09/the-log/).
God gave Daniel the dream. Simple as that. Daniel wasn’t cutting himself and doing incantations the way pagan people called out to their gods, 1 Ki 18:26-29. I’m guessing he wasn’t even begging God to help. As he’s been tactful and calm in other situations, I’m guessing he simply asked and waited in this one. And God came, 2:19.
After he receives the vision, Daniel praises God and says his name is to be praised forever. Why? Because wisdom and power are God’s, because he controls times and seasons, because he sets up kings and takes them down. “He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning. He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with him,” 2:20-22.
So he says thank you to the God of his fathers, the God who’s answered his prayer, “You have given me wisdom and power, you have made known to me what we asked of you, you have made known to us the dream of the king,” 2:23.
It would take an absolute trust in God to be God to do what Daniel did. It would have to be something he’s been doing a long time to have risked so much. But I’m guessing it wouldn’t have felt risky to Daniel at all, because God has come through time-after-time, as he always does.
That’s the God Daniel trusts, the one who says, “Never will I leave you, never will I forsake you,” the one who hung on a cross and walked out of his grave to prove it. This is the God who saves, Deut 6, 8, Josh 1:5, Ps 68:20; 88:1.
I’m taking notes.
1 Peter 3:8-46
“Whoever would love life
and see good days
must keep her tongue from evil
and her lips from deceitful speech.
She must turn from evil and do good;
she must seek peace and pursue it.
For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
and his ears are attentive to their prayer,
but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.”
1 Peter 3:10-12
It’s easy to read words like these and dismiss them, as if the promise in them is for someone else, and not for me–as if they’re naive (at best) and powerless (at worst).
But these are God’s words. He knows how he’s set up the world to work and how people work in that world. If he says this is the way to “love [my] life” and “see good days,” then I can either believe him or not.
If I believe him, I’m going to have to take them to heart. So what does he say I do?
1. Stop using my mouth for deceit, evil, lying, meanness–most of us know what evil mouths are like. But this is a tall order, God. It’s really easy to let things slip out, even when I’m trying to hold back. I’m guessing the problem is really with my heart. So work truth in my mouth, but I’m guessing you’ll have to start in my heart. Please do.
2. Next, I have to turn from evil and begin to do good. Turning away from evil isn’t enough. I have to be proactive for good, not just content myself with not doing wrong. When it comes to my mouth, that means refraining from criticism and complaining, and speaking encouragement and kindness to others. Hold my tongue and loosen it, too? Show me how.
3. Last, I must seek peace and actively pursue it. I’ve got to do what Daniel did and pay attention, step up, look for ways to promote peace in my relationships and wherever I happen to go. I can’t just be content to watch from the sidelines. I’ve got to be involved, too. This is hard. It’s a lot easier to sit back and check out.
What’s the promise for doing these three things? God says he will be attentive to my prayers, to my cries for help, to my uh-ohs, to my what nows? There will be lots of those.
I’m noticing that there’s no one else mentioned here. The changes that need making aren’t in my circumstances or in other people and their behavior. God speaks to me here. God doesn’t say to figure out other people’s personality profile to get along and have the good life. He doesn’t say to figure out mine, either, or to go to counseling. All of those are good tools to use, for sure.
But I’m often surprised how often I want to go to those things instead of do what God clearly says to do. And here he clearly says: watch your mouth, do good, pursue peace. Maybe I should start with those?
I’m unable to bring about the changes I need to make, God. Do your good work. Start with my heart.
The psalmist attributes his affliction and suffering with the thing that has opened him up to God’s word. I also notice that the more he delights in your word, the more he finds to delight in it. It feeds itself, so to speak. Rather than the learning of it being spoken of as dreary study, it has become more precious to him than money. Elsewhere in this section and in the next, he mentions delighting in God’s law. Is he for real? How can law be delightful?
I don’t think of God’s word as laws, though I know they are. It helps me to delight in them when I think of them as his special words for me, his love notes, actually–just the ones I need for that moment and for that day.
Law, statutes, precepts, word, judgments, decrees, commands…all of these are synonyms for the same thing–what God has to say. And if my heart delights in God, is filled with love by him, it only follows that what he says to me would be delightful, too. Even when I don’t especially like it, there’s a thrill in knowing that God speaks to me through his words. And because I’m sure that God loves me, I can trust what he says, even when what he says is hard to hear.
It also helps me to remember freedom. Satan wants to load me down with guilt and shame, burden me with do’s and dont’s. God says to avoid extremes, even to avoid the extreme of being overly righteous. My pastor, Eric Youngblood, once said, “Don’t be more righteous than God!” Solomon would agree, Ec 7:16-18.
When God speaks, it’s with hope and healing, love and connection, freedom and careful obedience, sometimes one thing, somethings another, but always with the consistent theme of the tenderest love and encouragement, the faintest whispers of “not there, look here,” or “have you thought about…?”
Gentle and piercing.
“Before I was afflicted, I went astray,
but now I obey your word.
You are good and what you do is good;
teach me your decrees…,
It was good for me to be afflicted
so that I might learn your decrees.
The law from your mouth is more precious to me
than thousand of pieces of silver and gold…
May your unfailing love be my comfort,
according to your promise to your servant.
Let your compassion come to me that I may live,
for your law is my delight,”
Psalm 119:67-68, 71-72, 76-77.
My take away today is my life as God’s story. He’s the one who made me and gave me life; he’s the one who uses it to tell the story of how he seeks and saves it. It’s what he did in Daniel’s life, giving him a position to save others and to bring honor to his name.
God knows how best to find the “good days” in this life I love, too. Will I listen and do what he says? Surely it can’t be as easy as three little reminders–of my mouth, of doing good, of pursuing peace. But haven’t I already tried everything else?
And I see in Psalms how God’s word is the key for what’s wrong in me, and how it’s also the way he brings righteousness and delight to me. The story he writes is surely better than any I can pen. When I did the writing, I was in the pit.
There are parts of my story I wish you’d write out, God. Help me to be patient as you carve your name first in my heart.