Kevin Reilly – Gdansk, Poland:
A slow study through Daniel this last month or so has both refreshed and challenged me. It’s an unusual book for sure! Written in two parts and in two languages – Aramaic and Hebrew – with the Hebrew so poor that at times, even scholars are confused. It’s written during a turbulent period in Judah’s history, with Jerusalem overthrown, the temple ransacked, the people killed or absorbed into Babylonian life and the best of them “re-educated” in Babylonian universities to serve as governors under Nebuchadnezzar.
This challenging book with it’s literary contortions, visions, revelations and visitations is proving to be a tremendous blessing.
Forces far greater than Daniel have exerted themselves upon him and he finds himself in the centre of a maelstrom that is not of his making. He has been forcibly relocated to an alien culture and country, with the buildings, rituals and practices of his faith burnt to the ground. He is then forced to embark on a period of re-education where even his name will be changed! (1:1-7)
And yet despite this enforced transformation, Daniel retains his sense of Jewishness. He is not of this people, and their ways are not his ways. Daniel remains as confident in God as he ever was, despite the many reductions and limitations imposed upon him. He is a Jew. He worships Yahweh. He will worship no other God and he will live for him alone.
But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank. Therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself. And God gave Daniel favour and compassion in the sight of the chief… (Dan 1:8)
Daniel is immovable with regard to his true identity. He is a worshipper of the one true God. It’s who he is. To compromise with regard to food is to defile himself. This is not a religious man, stubbornly going against the flow; rather, Daniel and friends see themselves as those set apart and belonging to God – compromise is not on the menu (1:11-12).
In the world of church, we often have the idea that going to church, being in the church and attending the meetings of the gathered community is where God’s presence is – and of course, the Book of Acts would bear this out. However, God is to be found and encountered on the margins and in the wilderness, as powerfully as anywhere else! With the trappings of his faith reduced to a pile of rubble, Daniel and friends prove God and encounter God in ways that most of us have never experienced. Their faith is truly, their faith! Their convictions about God are not founded upon the rituals and celebrations of the Hebrew calendar – they are deep-rooted personal beliefs that Yahweh is the Lord and I belong to him! This singular truth is the nucleus of their radical and remarkable faith.
In recent years, our freedoms, comforts and traditions have been truly shaken. A pandemic, wars, economic hardships, an assault upon gender as biological truth, the fall of Christian leaders and the increased secularisation of our nations – all these (and more) press themselves violently upon us. And the temptation to turn in, to hide away and to compromise has, perhaps, rarely been greater.
But the nucleus of our Christian faith is not in any man-made thing. It is Christ. Our foundation has never been an institution! It has never been prosperity, peace between nations, perfect leaders or cultural trends – our foundation is Christ alone! Jesus’ life and ministry turned institutions (religious and otherwise) upside down – he challenged them! His approach to personal poverty was to believe God for his daily bread. There was no peace in his day, with its religious persecution and Roman oppression. And leaders – even from among the twelve – would fail and fall.
Christianity was literally birthed on the margins (think, the Christmas story), in poverty, under a corrupt and broken system, during a period of intense persecution and oppression – even infanticide! The Christian faith was born for times like ours and Daniel and friends carry this same conviction. You can take my church buildings, my leaders, my money, my freedom, even my name. But my faith and my peace is in God alone – my foundation, my Rock of Ages!
Faith on the Margins – Lessons from Daniel and Friends
Live Simply: For Daniel and friends, decision-making is straight forward. The Lord is entrusted with outcomes. Their concern is to remain devoted and obedient. Their obedience to God will cost them. A bad retelling of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream will end in death (2:12-13). Unwillingness to bow before a golden statue of the King will lead to a death sentence (3:20). A Refusal to worship King Darius will take Daniel into a cave of lions (6:16). Daniel Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego embrace these outcomes, in faith. Their concern is only ever next-step obedience. The consequences of obedience are left with the Lord, for whom the steps of obedience are being taken.
Live Boldly: Later, Daniel’s friends are tested as their promotion within Babylonian government attracts jealous scheming from their peers. A decree is made that when the sound of music is heard, all the people must fall to the ground and praise a golden image of Nebuchadnezzar. Anyone who fails to to do so will be cast into a furnace (3:1-7). The schemers report Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego for their unwillingness to fall and praise the idol, and so the King offers them a fresh chance to worship. Their response is legendary:
O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter…our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up (3:16-17).
Compromise costs nothing. Obedience takes courage.
In the face of stiff opposition, the early church ask for boldness (Acts 4:23-31). They are oppressed and so they turn to God, asking for courage and are filled with the Holy Spirit, so that they might continue to speak the word of God with boldness. (4:31) – this early church, finding herself bound and thrown into the furnace of persecution, has a divine encounter – a fourth man – who delivers them.
Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego step into a furnace, where they have a divine encounter – a fourth man – who delivers them (3:25). God will always respond to bold steps of obedience.
Live Consistently: Daniel lived to be about eighty years old and during his lifetime (620-536 BC) he served under four kings / regents from three different kingdoms: Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar (Babylon), Darius (Mede) and Cyrus (Persia). He lived in a context of conflict and war, with new Kings and regents rising and falling throughout. Yet Daniel (like Joseph) rose to a position of prominence and authority:
Daniel became distinguished above all the other high officials and satraps, because an excellent spirit was in him. And the king (Darius) planned to set him over the whole kingdom. (6:3).
At the age of about 75, Daniel is positioned by Darius for incredible power and yet, his sense of identity as a man devoted to his God never wanes. The other governors around him, jealous of old Daniel’s promotions, set him up to fall by recommending to King Darius that for thirty days, anyone found praying to a God other than Darius should be thrown into the lions’ den. Daniel’s response is magnificent; sixty-five years of exile haven’t dulled his devotion to God one jot:
When Daniel knew that the document (the thirty day edit) had been signed, he went to his house where he had windows in his upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously. (6:10)
And you know the rest of the story. He’s seen, reported, arrested, thrown into the den, visited by an angel, delivered, exonerated, promoted and God is glorified. (6:11-28)
The story has a happy and glorious ending because one man lived consistently with conviction. Authority and power could not corrupt him. Peer pressure and deceit could not divert him. And from the beginning of his exile in 605 BC until the very end of his life in 536 BC he lived like this. Following his death, King Cyrus allows the Jews to return to Judea and rebuild the temple in Jerusalem (Ezra 1:1-4) – a glorious redemption that Daniel sought consistently from his knees (9:1-19)
We have a tendency to think that what we are seeing in our world in these days is new. It isn’t. Jesus promises that there will be wars and rumours of wars, nation rising against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and famines and earthquakes in various places (Mt 24:6-8). But Jesus also promises to pour out his Spirit, baptising us afresh with power and boldness, to witness.
A fearful and compromised Christianity is always an option, but Daniel’s story of a life lived on the margins with conviction, courage and consistency beckons.
And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness. (Acts 4:31)