Daniel: Live Strong

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter.  If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand.  But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

In the Christian Bible, Daniel is included among the major prophets with Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. However, in the Hebrew Bible, Daniel is sorted into the Writings along with Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and other wisdom literature. It seems to be a composite book, with chapters 1-6 relating stories of Daniel’s legendary faithfulness, and chapters 7-12 containing a series of apocalyptic visions of the future. Parts are written in Aramaic, and parts in Hebrew.  And although its stories are set during the Exile in the sixth century, many scholars believe the book was written or finalized during the second century. If the late dating is correct, Daniel would then be chronologically the last book added to the Hebrew canon.

The book of Daniel contains such familiar stories as Daniel in the lion’s den; Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace; and the moving finger which writes Babylon’s doom on the wall. Daniel’s apocalyptic visions are probably less familiar than the stories, but are often interpreted (usually wrongly) by people who would like to pin down the exact date of the end of the world. For example, I can remember that during the sixties, there were those who thought that the ten toes of the giant statue of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream predicted the creation of the European Common Market. When it reached ten members, all hell would literally break loose. That theory went away after the Common Market grew to involve considerably more than ten nations, but after Brexit, it has popped up again in certain circles.

Those of you who regularly read my posts know that I am not an inerrantist. I don’t think the Bible exists to communicate facts, but to illuminate truths. Its purpose is not to provide scientific information, historical records, or future predictions, but to bring people into a transformative relationship with God. I’m in agreement with the scholars who ascribe a date of circa 165 BC for Daniel and categorize it as wisdom literature written in the apocalyptic genre

I’m a fan of science fiction, and of Star Trek in particular. (Yes, I’m old enough to have watched the original series when it first aired.) What I like most about it was the way it used stories to offer social commentary on current events. By telling stories instead of reporting or editorializing on the news, it was effective in getting people to see those events in a different light. The Vietnam war was ratcheting up; cities and college campuses were aflame with race riots and student protests;  JFK, RFK, and MLK were assassinated;  big cities were blanketed with smog and several rivers caught fire due to extreme pollution; and women were generally treated as second-class citizens. In the midst of this, Star Trek envisioned a generally optimistic future where all kinds of people worked together to explore the galaxy, one in which “infinite diversity in infinite combinations” was celebrated. .I see apocalyptic literature as being akin to science fiction in that it utilizes fantastic imagery in futuristic settings to talk about problems that are going on in the present. It just makes sense to me to think of Daniel as written to encourage the second century Jewish people, who were living in particularly perilous times, to “live strong” under Antiochus Epiphanes. It makes much less sense to me to think that God would decide that what the newly exiled, bereft  Israelites of the sixth century really needed was a detailed description of events that would happen hundreds of years in their future, telescoped with events that would happen thousands of years in the future.

You may or may not agree with me about the origin and purpose of Daniel, but here’s the spiritual truth I think lies behind Daniel’s stories and visions: Stay strong. Stand up for what you believe, and do what is right, even if you pay a price for doing so. Evil may reign for a time, but it will never have the final answer. Go with God, and you will find yourself empowered to boldly go into that undiscovered country where the future lies. And that’s good news to me!

 

 

 

 

 

 

Advertisements