Life Lessons: Daniel
At this point in my life my Bible is marked up, highlighted, stickered and flagged. Every time I have an “aha” moment, I make sure to mark it down so I will remember that truth the next time I see it. The book of Daniel is no different except that my marking up for it begins on the previous page with a big arrow drawn across the page from Ezekiel to Daniel. See, the last verse of Ezekiel provides a name of God... Jehovah Shammah which means “The LORD is there.” Next, to this verse I have scribbled in pink, “Wherever I go…” and then “Daniel 3:18” with my big arrow. And while the book of Ezekiel takes place several decades before the book of Daniel, that conclusion sets the stage for the reality experienced by Daniel and his friends, as well as, setting up our reality of knowing “The LORD is there.”
Hubris and the Folly of Man
Our story is set during the Jewish captivity in Babylon and much of the book is told through interactions between the titular character and several powerful men. These interactions show two vastly different approaches to pride and abilities AND two vastly different outcomes.
In spite of being captive, it is clear that Daniel has been blessed by the Lord with abilities and favor that has helped raise him up to a high position. This position puts him in line to interpret dreams and signs for several kings which the wise men of the country could not do. More than that, it allowed him to give glory and credit to the one true God.
The first time Daniel was called to interpret a dream was with the famous King Nebuchadnezzar. When Daniel explained that the dream was telling of kingdoms to come, the king fell down before Daniel and said, “Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings…” You would think a realization like that would set some changes in motion but the next chapter sees the king build an idol of gold with a decree that all bow down to it. (We discussed this story in the post, Life Lesson: The Fiery Furnace.) Apparently, Nebuchadnezzar recognized God but didn’t feel the need to change his ways. Sound familiar? So, after this whole affair and trying to kill Daniel’s friends, the king praises God again for saving their lives but that seems to only be lip service and not a heart change because he has another dream.
This time the dream is a bit more concerning...concerning to the point that Daniel is terrified to speak. He tells the king that this dream is casting judgement on his sins and foretelling his fall from grace and power. Daniel then advises the king to turn from his wicked ways so that he doesn’t succumb to this future. What do you think happened? The king trusted in his own ways and power stating, “Is not this the great Babylon I have built...by my mighty power for the glory of my majesty?” Hubris is always dangerous and the prophecy is fulfilled.
In chapter 5, we see Daniel dealing with the new king, Belshazzar, son of Nebuchadnezzar. Like daddy, he is pretty certain of himself and like daddy he starts seeing mysterious things. This time Daniel is called to interpret writing on the wall. The new king offers Daniel expensive clothes, gold jewelry and power for his help which had to be enticing to a captive but Daniel wisely turned it down. However, he still interprets and points the King to the one true God, reminding Belshazzar that he was making the same mistakes his father made even though they led to his downfall but the writing was quite literally on the wall and he was murdered that night.
This murder sets the stage for a new king, Darius, who chooses to favor Daniel like his predecessors and like his predecessors he thinks very highly of himself. After all, this is the king that passed the decree requiring all subjects to bow down and worship him as a god or face the lion's den. We all know what Daniel chose as his fate. He worshiped the one true God but we will get back to that and how King Darius figured out what his forerunners couldn’t because he eventually declares that everyone must “fear and reverence the God of Daniel” and his story seems to end without tragedy.
This is not the end of Daniel’s interpretations but I think this moment clearly shows the difference in knowing about God and knowing God. Daniel wasn’t confused on where his abilities and power came from which is evident in all the ways he took the spotlight off himself and placed it on God. It’s when we start thinking that our successes, skills, blessings and attractiveness come from within that we are headed for disaster. God will not share His glory nor should He. Make sure your life story is always shining the light on the source of your abilities and success and never forget to thank God for all the ways He has blessed you.
Don’t forget who you work for…
Let’s head back to the lion’s den. King Darius is on the throne and has appointed 120 men to rule throughout the kingdom with three administrators over them, including Daniel which didn’t sit well with some of the others so they looked for a way to bring Daniel down. They knew that Daniel would not go against God so they set a trap for him by convincing the king to pass a decree requiring all people to bow down to no one but him.
What does Daniel do? He heads home and begins praying to God for help which is now against the law but Daniel knows where his hope lies and who he “works” for in his life. Believe it or not, the king wanted to save Daniel but couldn’t talk his way out of his law so into the lion’s den Daniel went with only his faith in God as protection but what a shield.
Finding hope in a hopeless place.
In chapter 6 verse 17 we are still hanging with the lions but this is where my Bible starts getting more highlights and arrows again. A stone is brought to seal Daniel in with the king placing his mark on it “so that Daniel’s situation might not be changed” and thus starts my arrow to verse 23 but let’s not miss what occurs in between.
After sealing Daniel in, the king heads home to sit in silence without eating or sleeping and I have to wonder if he reached out to Daniel’s God? He wanted Daniel’s God to rescue him (vs. 16) but did he feel so hopeless that he reached out to this unknown God himself? I think he might have because at dawn he ran to the den calling out for Daniel in anguish and referring to him as the “servant of the living God”... the LIVING God! Many people have a story of meeting God in a place of hopelessness and crying out even if they aren’t certain they are being heard. I think that might have happened to King Darius that night and can you imagine his joy in the morning when Daniel answered back?
This moment brings us back to my arrow and verse 23, “no wound was found on him, because he had trusted in his God”. We go from a hopeless situation with man ensuring that Daniel’s harrowing situation couldn’t change to God’s miraculous plan. Remember, even when we are facing what seems like a completely insurmountable problem, God is not limited. We often think that because we can’t see a way out that there must not be one. Daniel was put in the hole. The entrance was sealed. No other exits were available. No other way out. I would have only been looking for an escape and yet God’s answer was to take the king of the jungle and make it a lap cat. Much like the fiery furnace, I would have wanted out of the fire but that wasn’t God’s way. Full circle back to Ezekiel and Jehovah Shammah. Regardless of our circumstances, God is there and that should give us hope in the most hopeless of moments.
We could probably spend the next eternity gleaning wisdom and examples from Daniel but I think it is the overarching truth of Jehovah Shammah, not in name but in experience, that makes this book so powerful, yesterday and today.