Reading through the Bible together

Friday, August 15, 2014

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If one thinks of the first six chapters of the book of Daniel as simply historical chapters, this is not correct.  It is a history with framed prophecies about the short reign of the kings of Judah, and about Nebuchadnezzar and the Pharaoh of Egypt.

So while Daniel later wrote about his experience, which became chapter one, the most traumatic experience started when Nebuchadnezzar came and took him to Babylon together with articles from the Temple (v.2). Good looking youths who showed that they were intelligent and who could serve in the court of the king had to be taken (v. 4). Daniel was good-looking and intelligent so he was taken.

Daniel remembered how he and his three friends were taught Babylonian, Assyrian, Sumerian and other languages and the literature of these languages. He had to sit daily with his friends learning the grammar and the meaning of phrases in cuneiform (nails-script) which archeologists have found in the texts at the Nineveh Library.

The Babylonian College Degree was three years (v. 5). The best mathematicians, astronomers, historians, literature professors schooled Daniel and his friends daily. Then they were given Babylonian names. Daniel’s name meant “God is my judge” but he was given the name Belteshazzar, referring to the powerful Babylonian god “Bel” to humiliate this freshman to College. Hananiah’s name meant “Yahweh is kind” but the commander changed it to Shadrach. Mishael meant “Who belongs to God” which was changed it to Meshach. Azariah meant    “Yahweh is helping” which also was changed to Abednego. All these Babylonian names meant being servants of the Babylonian gods in one way or another.  This was a great humiliation for these Hebrew young men.

Also Daniel and his friends were to eat at the King’s table, which became an issue. Daniel remembers this very well when he later wrote about it. They were confronted to eat the things the Babylonian king liked. It is appropriate for us to ask what Babylonian kings ate. A good source for the answer is the Hemerological texts, which a text of a fortune-teller to the king telling him what he should and should not eat on various days of a 360 day-year calendar.  Such a text listed that the king ate “meat of pork” and “meat of beef” and “fish.” An earlier text included a “doormouse” (NÍG.GIG).

Daniel and his friends were in trouble. They faced faith-testing decisions and they had to decide quickly. The king also drank wine (v. 8) and Daniel knew that alcohol and education are not bedmates. When the Bible is negative of wine it is alcohol related wine, but when it is positive it is grape juice and grape jam.  Infants ask for wine and jam from their mothers in Lamentations 2:11-12. No mother provides alcohol to an infant. “When you sit down to dine with a ruler, consider carefully what is before you (Proverbs 23:1).  “Do not desire his delicacies for it is deceptive food” (Proverbs 23:3). Do not look on the wine when it is red, when it sparkles in the cup, when it goes down smoothly.  At last it bites like a serpent and stings like a viper. Your eyes will see strange things and our mind will utter perverse things.” (Proverbs 23:31-33).

The words of his father reading such texts to him must have been rolling in Daniel’s head “and Daniel made up his mind that he would not defile himself with the king’s choice of food or the wine which he drank” (v. 8). His father’s morning worship readings helped Daniel to make a sober decision. “I might be as merchandise to the King of Babylon, but not my soul and mind.” God liked Daniel’s decision and blessed him for that step in faith for God. His commander liked him (v. 9). Daniel requested that he and his friends only receive a vegetarian meal and water. They got vegetables (v. 16). God was very pleased with the four and gave them knowledge, intelligence in every branch of literature and also gave them wisdom, in addition Daniel was given the talent of understanding visions and dreams (v. 17).

When they went for an “Interview Test” and Nebuchadnezzar talked to them, he could not find anyone similar to them and they were hired on the spot (v. 19). Because God gave them wisdom and understanding, Nebuchadnezzar found them 10 times better than all the magicians and sorcerers in his service (v. 20). Daniel end his personal story by saying that he worked for Babylon until the first year of King Cyrus (v. 21), which was 538 BC. If he was 16 at captivity time he was 83 when he finished his career. He wrote it in Hebrew because this way he could communicate with his family back home about his College Education and other experiences in Babylon.

Dear God,
Daniel’s story about himself, does not exclude You. Your hand is in front, next to, and behind him all the time. We wish to be embraced by the Living God in this way so that we can also make tough decisions by stepping out in faith for You. Amen.

Koot van Wyk, DLitt et Phil; ThD
Kyungpook National University
Sangju, South Korea