When I recently shared my thoughts on a favourite Bible character, “Jephthah, possibly my favourite Bible character”, I did so mindful it might be a controversial choice.
Not so, with today’s subject – Daniel the prophet. He is a lot more rounded figure without obvious flaws, who uncompromisingly served God throughout his lifetime, beginning in his teens, and did so with distinction for a period of at least 70 years. Unlike with the awkward bits in the Jephthah story, other than “unlikely” miracles and predictions, the story of Daniel can be nicely told to children, even though his prophesies might be deemed beyond most adults. We are confident it was that long for he was in Babylon, along with other “higher ups” in Hebrew society, from the start of the Jewish exile, which we know was 70 years, prophesied by Jeremiah, before they could return home by virtue of Cyrus’ edict, and he was there at the end – which we can read about in the Book of Daniel.
Like many who were privileged enough to attend Sunday School, I was exposed to Daniel at an early age and remember singing the song in the meme above and being encouraged to join Daniel’s band. He was after all a hero of the faith with a special quality of being able to adapt to a society that was as far away from following the Law of Moses that governed Daniels life and that of his three chums: Shadrach Meshach and Abednego, as can be imagined. Just as his friends were thrown into the fiery furnace due to their resolve to honour the Lord, and survived, so it was with Daniel, who was thrown into the den of lions and came out of it unscathed. And it wasn’t just following the letter of the Law, but also the spirit, including being a man of prayer. He was also an amazing prophet who prophesied stuff that was fulfilled in his lifetime, that would be fulfilled centuries later, and are yet to be fulfilled, even though 2600 years later we can look back and declare these all make sense.
As for his righteousness, when Ezekiel (a near contemporary) surveyed the state of the nation of Israel and pondered before God who might be qualified to deliver it by their righteousness, of the names that could have been chosen, it was Daniel (along with Noah and Job) that was mentioned (Ezekiel 14), but even then the people were too far gone for that to happen. When we first come across the four friends, their potential was recognized and they were picked out by the powers that be to be given the best education available at the time, so later they could take up positions in the administration of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. From what we can make out, they adapted to their studies with relish and excelled beyond the others put on the program, to the extent they were to be later given good positions in Nebuchadnezzar’s administration. One early challenge was in the matter of diet. This lover of good food might well be tempted by what was offered to Daniel and his friends, but was unacceptable because of the dietary requirements of the Law, and their choice was a vegetable diet, on which they thrived. From an early age, Daniel laid down the marker – he would work with and under the authority of those who ruled, to the best of his ability, but would in no way compromise on matters of his faith.
There is so much we can learn from Daniel’s life that comes in the very significant category, although for most of his life he simply did what needed to be done, often behind the scenes and in ordinary ways, despite him being brought to our attention and those in power at the time because of his dreams and visions and the supernatural. Like now, he lived in extraordinary times and had to adapt; in his case it was being part of God’s chosen people yet subject to those who did not honour God. While his prophesies were astounding and food for much thought, pondering this in depth will require more study, which will have to be for another time. For now let us reflect:
- His whole life was marked by his faithfulness to God
- He was diligent in all that he did and God blessed him and made him a blessing to others
- While he submitted to ungodly authorities, it was always God first, even if it meant he had to die
- His extraordinary qualities as a result of God’s blessing were recognized by those who did not recognize the God of Israel, with who he cooperated, working for the common good
- He was recognized and honoured by at least three kings: Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar and Darius, and that had a significant impact in the unraveling of God’s plan for Israel including influencing all of them in unexpected ways.
- He had a glimpse into a still yet to be revealed future: “And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever” Daniel 2:44
- He prayed amazing prayers, especially the one on behalf of his people and confessing their sins, which ends: “O Lord, hear; O Lord, forgive; O Lord, hearken and do; defer not, for thine own sake, O my God: for thy city and thy people are called by thy name” Daniel 9:19
- He had a glimpse in the spiritual warfare that governed what was going on: “But the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me one and twenty days” Daniel 10:11
- Just as he look forward to the reign of the Christ, he could also see the evil reign of the yet to be revealed AntiChrist, and similar before him, realizing: “yet he shall come to his end, and none shall help him” Daniel 11:45
- He understood a time of trouble for God’s people, some of it still to be fulfilled: “there shall be a time of trouble, such as never was since there was a nation even to that same time: and at that time thy people shall be delivered, every one that shall be found written in the book” Daniel 12:1
- He understood the limits of his knowledge and understanding: “And he said, Go thy way, Daniel: for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end” Daniel 12:9
- He could personally look forward to wonderful end beyond the grave: “But go thou thy way till the end be: for thou shalt rest, and stand in thy lot at the end of the days” Daniel 12:13