Sunday, September 25, 2011

Scripture Sunday: The Book of Daniel

The book of Daniel is short, but crammed with action. A lot happens in its 12 chapters. The first chapter gives us a little of Daniel's background, and it's amazing. Daniel is a teenager when the kingdom of Judah (which is what's left of the kingdom of Israel) is carted off to captivity in Babylon. Daniel and a lot of other young men are drafted into a special type of government service because they are of royal blood and are intelligent, attractive people. So Daniel had everything that would have set him up for a good life--noble birth, good looks, strong mind--and instead of getting to use those skills in his home country, he and his friends are instead becoming very high-ranking slaves in Babylon. But Daniel doesn't bemoan his fate.

As soon as Daniel and his friends are settled in their new government apprenticeship program, they run across a problem--the food they're being served is forbidden to Israelites. Daniel respectfully requests that he and his companions be allowed to eat vegetarian meals instead, and God gives him favor with the person who's making the meal decisions. This early encounter sets the pattern for a lot of things that Daniel does later. He's always wise and gracious in everything he does. You never see Daniel losing his temper like King David or bragging like Joseph. He has a special purpose in life, and God uses him to deliver many important messages.

One story that most people remember from the book of Daniel (other than, you know, Daniel in the Lion's Den) is the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego and the fiery furnace. King Nebuchadnezzar makes a giant gold statue and commands everyone to worship it, but these fellows worship the true God of Israel and make it clear that they aren't going to bow down before a big piece of metal. As punishment for their disobedience, the king has the guys thrown into a fiery furnace, a gigantic oven of flames that should kill them instantly. Instead, the king looks into the furnace and sees some completely unharmed men walking around--it's actually four men instead of three, "and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God". Someone holy and divine is protecting these guys from the flames. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego come out of the furnace unburned, and they are promoted to high offices in Babylon.

Except for the lion's den issue, most of the rest of Daniel deals with his prophetic dreams, some that applied directly to circumstances in Babylon, and some that were intended for the future. Many of Daniel's prophecies connect to the ones found later in the New Testament book of Revelation.

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