The Wild Places Bible Guide – 13
March 27, 2019
Wednesday, March 27
Daniel 1 (CEB)
1 In the third year of the rule of Judah’s King Jehoiakim, Babylon’s King Nebuchadnezzar came to Jerusalem and attacked it. 2 The Lord handed Judah’s King Jehoiakim over to Nebuchadnezzar, along with some of the equipment from God’s house. Nebuchadnezzar took these to Shinar, to his own god’s temple, putting them in his god’s treasury.
3 Nebuchadnezzar instructed his highest official Ashpenaz to choose royal descendants and members of the ruling class from the Israelites—4 good-looking young men without defects, skilled in all wisdom, possessing knowledge, conversant with learning, and capable of serving in the king’s palace. Ashpenaz was to teach them the Chaldean language and its literature. 5 The king assigned these young men daily allotments from his own food and from the royal wine. Ashpenaz was to teach them for three years so that at the end of that time they could serve before the king. 6 Among these young men from the Judeans were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. 7 But the chief official gave them new names. He named Daniel “Belteshazzar,” Hananiah “Shadrach,” Mishael “Meshach,” and Azariah “Abednego.”
8 Daniel decided that he wouldn’t pollute himself with the king’s rations or the royal wine, and he appealed to the chief official in hopes that he wouldn’t have to do so. 9 Now God had established faithful loyalty between Daniel and the chief official; 10 but the chief official said to Daniel, “I’m afraid of my master, the king, who has mandated what you are to eat and drink. What will happen if he sees your faces looking thinner than the other young men in your group? The king will have my head because of you!”
11 So Daniel spoke to the guard whom the chief official had appointed over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah: 12 “Why not test your servants for ten days? You could give us a diet of vegetables to eat and water to drink. 13 Then compare our appearance to the appearance of the young men who eat the king’s food. Then deal with your servants according to what you see.”
14 The guard decided to go along with their plan and tested them for ten days. 15 At the end of ten days they looked better and healthier than all the young men who were eating the king’s food. 16 So the guard kept taking away their rations and the wine they were supposed to drink and gave them vegetables instead. 17 And God gave knowledge, mastery of all literature, and wisdom to these four men. Daniel himself gained understanding of every type of vision and dream.
18 When the time came to review the young men as the king had ordered, the chief official brought them before Nebuchadnezzar. 19 When the king spoke with them, he found no one as good as Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. So they took their place in the king’s service.20 Whenever the king consulted them about any aspect of wisdom and understanding, he found them head and shoulders above all the dream interpreters and enchanters in his entire kingdom. 21 And Daniel stayed in the king’s service until the first year of King Cyrus.
Points of Interest
- Out of the war, and into the exile we go. The young, talented men who Ashpenaz enrolls in Babylon University remind me of many international graduate students and young professionals I meet in my own large international college town. None of the men and women I meet were forcibly brought to this country, but they often represent the “best and the brightest” of their home cities. Sometimes they have left conditions of poverty and chaos. Often they are treated as outsiders in this land, but their experience here make them cultural and economic outsiders in their homelands as well.
- The new names that Daniel and his friends are given are part of Babylon’s assimilation project. Get rid of people’s culture and language and faith, and you eliminate the possibility of resistance. Empire is always giving us new names – trying to define us by the gods of our age: what we earn and buy and consume, the status markers of our education or zip codes or careers, and so much more. Daniel and the boys, from the author’s perspective, resist. They are still known to us and one another as their true selves, children of God.
- For whatever reason, the young exile Daniel finds eating the Babylonian diet one step too far in participating in the destruction of his culture and his faith. The rabbi Jonathan Sachs and the theologian Miroslav Volf have been helpful in identifying various postures people of faith can take in environments where their faith makes them unusual. There’s total assimilation, total withdrawal, and total attempt to have one’s own faith dominate – these three postures are the most common for faith exiles, but they all end badly. The best posture is to be a creative minority – to do what Daniel and friends do: engage creatively and deeply in culture, while still pursuing a distinct life one’s faith creates. Daniel 1 is a kind of case study of this.
- Daniel’s plan works, confirmed by two signs. One, he stays true to himself and true to his faith. Two, he flourished as a student and young professional, achieving all that he’s expected and more. Healthy faith seems to lead toward radical withdrawal from cultural norms in some areas, and radical and favorable engagement in some others. All people of faith get to discern this balance in their own lives and times. The two part book of Chronicles retells the story of Samuel and Kings from a different vantage point. Samuel and Kings were written earlier, during exile, trying to make sense of the end of the nation.
- Chronicles is written after Israel is reengaged in developing a collective civic and religious life, in a rebuilt temple. In Kings, the temple is Solomon’s, in Chronicles it is God’s. The Bible doesn’t have a single angle on many things. Authors, though inspired by God, are influenced by their times, their culture, and their perspective. God lets God’s children tell the story.
- One thing that can be helpful or challenging for readers of Chronicles is the author’s insistence that a just God is orchestrating all events. King Zedekiah was godless and didn’t listen to the prophet or keep his promise to his international colleague. The leaders and the priests assimilated to the faith of surrounding cultures, messed up Jerusalem’s religious practice, and wouldn’t listen to God’s warnings. Therefore God gets angry and uses a bigger country to wipe them out. The black and white clarity and a certain kind of justice proposed are encouraging from one angle – the world is not chaotic or nihilistic; there is order and justice. Everything happens for a reason. On the other hand, the idea that an angry God set in motion mass killing, raping, destruction, and exile is difficult for most of us to swallow. Is this consistent with a faithful God of love? Was this really necessary?
- All we can say is that the authors of Chronicles thought so, and this gave them comfort. God lets God’s children tell the story. Part of faithful Bible reading is to question what we read, ask if it is consistent with what we know of God revealed in Jesus Christ, and to draw our own conclusions.
- There’s a bit of ecological justice woven into the story. God’s people needed a timeout of sorts, but the land did as well. As crop scientists know, land needs rest, not just people.
- The Jewish Bible orders some books differently than do Christians. This is the last chapter in Jewish Bible. There’s a hopeful ending here, a fast-forward to the time when Jews were commissioned to restore their temple and nation, and an invitation to all God’s people to worship and do the work of God in our time.
A Direction for Prayer
Pray for your friends and family that feel out of place in hostile educational or work environments, that God would give them courage to pursue a life of faith and be their true selves, and the God will give them favor and success in their learning or work as well.
Spiritual Exercise of the Week
Growing Hope – This week, the exercise will vary slightly from day to day. Each day, though, you’ll be invited to grow hope in your own wild place of exile – a loss that you or your culture has suffered, a dream that has died, some way that you don’t belong, don’t fit, or aren’t understood in your current context.
The temptation in exile is to a death of faith or a loss of hope. Today, if you are fasting this lent, ask yourself what the fasting is doing in you. Is it helping you break rhythm and detach from some of your life’s norms? Is it making room more of God and more of hope in you? If you’re not fasting, consider if there is a fast you can engage in today, or for the rest of Lent, that will break your attachment to your culture and make room for radical, counter-cultural hope in God.