Sometimes, in the sweeping historical events related in the Old Testament, one gets bogged down in names and dates that seem so hopelessly disconnected from the here and now. What do Mannaseh, Jeremiah, Hezekiah, and Nebuchadnezzar have to do with my shoebox apartment that I’m trying to decorate and make a home this week? What does the life of Nebuchadnezzar speak to the lunch I am having with my unsaved co-worker and the opportunities that I am so good at conveniently passing by to speak of things that matter instead of the state of the weather and the inane details of life? Did I spend too much money on those clothes for work? These questions couldn’t be any further from the biographies of the kings who did “evil in the sight of the Lord.” My fears about not being a good enough or losing my temper with irreparable damage. Why do I even bother reading the whole Bible? Don’t the gospels and epistles have more direct instructions for life than I could ever hope to live out with any success?
I approach the Word with simple requests this morning: speak to me, O Daniel. Lord, grant me the wisdom I crave in the pages of this ancient text. Change my heart again. It has turned since the last time you recalibrated it. Lord, please forgive me and turn it back. I confess I care less about your Word than I do about whether my potted plants match my carpets. I am a foolish creature and I only vaguely see my damning distractions as evil in your sight. Do the impossible again and help me to see into eternity and live with that picture in my mind today. Do what only you can do. I am helpless in my humanity.
“Let the name of God be blessed forever and ever,
For wisdom and power belong to Him.
It is He who changes the times and the epochs;
He removes kings and establishes kings;
He gives wisdom to wise men and knowledge to men of understanding.
It is He who reveals the profound and hidden things;
He knows what is in the darkness
And the light dwells with Him.” (Daniel 2:20-22)
Consider the times surrounding Daniel’s life. His family is royal, well-to-do, probably well-educated and refined. As the fires of Jerusalem burn hot and smoke strangles the beloved land, young elite men are seized from their families and undergo inspection. Daniel makes the cut. The Bible states that those chosen were “youths in whom was no defect, who were good-looking, showing intelligence in every branch of wisdom, endowed with understanding and discerning knowledge, and who had ability for serving in the king’s court” (1:4). Even so, there must have been quite a few of those. I wonder what it was about Daniel that made him stand out? Did he hold his frame a bit straighter? Did he look them in the eye with the fierceness and confidence that would foreshadow the rest of his life? Did one of his answers to their interrogation make them do a double take? Or was it the way his friends looked at him, as if they would follow him anywhere? It’s all just speculation.
So he is chosen, and dons the garb of a Babylonian wise man. “Daniel” is forgotten, and “Belteshazzar” takes his place. Familiarity and familial bonds are severed; a new life begins. At this point in the story I would make one of two choices: to abandon my culture and roots fully and become Babylonian in my idealology as well as my practice, or to pine away in bitter sadness at the loss of everything I hold dear, shaking my fist at God for His “lack of goodness.” I can hear my thoughts already:
I do not deserve this.
How can God be good?
Where is His power now?
Why have You forsaken me?
I can’t imagine that Daniel wouldn’t have asked these questions. How could he help but weep bitterly for the greatness of his loss? Which one of us would not be devastated and broken, perhaps irreparably so, by these events? If he was, we are not privy to that information. What we do see, however, is a very important, life-changing phrase:
“But Daniel made up his mind.” (1:8)
I can’t help but think the BUT whispers of so much more than we see in the text, but our own hearts tell us what it must have been preceeded by. Daniel is no super-human. He is also covered by the dust that the rest of us know so well. It serves us well to bring him off the convenient pedestal that separates his story from penetrating our lives fully.
He did something that we all are given the privilege to do every single day of our lives. He made up his mind. Sometimes I like to think that that my lot is one of reaction. I am not my own master, but circumstances dictate every response. I didn’t get enough sleep last night, so I must plod through the day with indiscretion. Overactivity has a vice-grip on my time, so am obliged to attend to activity instead of meditation. The expectations of others play the role of hard master to my scurrying, exhausted self. I couldn’t possibly choose any other way. It would be unacceptable to disappoint anyone in the legion of demanding souls. I could not let them down.
However, there’s something important that I’ve left out of my bleak lot. See what happens as a result of Daniel’s resolve. He approaches the commander of the officials and gains permission to abstain from the food which Jewish law clearly states would defile him in the sight of God. It’s a risky bet. Why would Daniel be granted special treatment over anybody else in the program? The equation is familiar: man goes out on a limb, God intervenes. Scripture is clear on this point.
“Now God granted Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the commander of the officials. (1:9)”
Daniel did not earn this favor. God granted it. But first, Daniel had to make up his mind.
So begins one of the greatest stories of all time.