I’ve always had a fondness for Daniel.
I recently revisited the prophet’s story and was once again impressed by a man of devotion, determination and discipline. His name means “God is My Judge”. He clearly lived up to his name. It didn’t seem to matter what others thought of his actions and his resolve. When God is your judge, you care little of what others may think or how they may judge you. Hence, the first important lesson learned from Daniel is in just contemplating the meaning of his name. The court narratives in Chapters 1-6 are thrilling to be sure, but they will mean far more if you stop for a moment and meditate a bit over the phrase, “God is my judge.”
As you likely know, Daniel is one of a multitude of Jews who are exported to Babylon around 586 B.C. as a result of the conquest of Nebuchadnezzar. He is most closely associated with his three friends and fellow Jews, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah.
They are unfortunately known better by their Babylonian names, “Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego”. I say unfortunate, because I think we show them greater honor if we refer to them by their Jewish names. Each of their Jewish names refers to an aspect of God, whereas their Babylonian names refer to astrological terms or other pagan references. I’m kind of thinking it was their faith in God at work which left them un-parched after their ordeal in fire. If the media had got an exclusive on this story, I think the three would have identified themselves and Hananiah, (Yah has been gracious) Meshial (Who is what God is?) and Azariah (Yah has helped).
When I teach the lesson of the firey furnace to young people, I take great pleasure in asking the trick question, “what are the names of the three Jewish lads who were cast into the furnace of fire?” The kids always give the Babylonian names and I say, “Wrong!”. They look back at their Bibles and get a bit perturbed as I insist that their answer is wrong. When I tell them the correct answer is Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, they groan and complain and insist I am just being a smart aleck…..which, of course…..I am. But they don’t miss the point.
One’s identity is better attached to God and our having been made in His image, than any other identity the world might dole out to us.
As I poured over the Daniel epic I pondered over how difficult it must have been for those exiles to look over their shoulders as they were led from their beloved Jerusalem. As they exited they would have been aware that the temple was being ransacked, their sacred place of worship pillaged and plundered. Fire and smoke rose from God’s holy temple. For Daniel and company, it would have been their “9/11″. This would be their day of infamy. They were leaving the land of their Father in a journey to a distant land.
Contemplating this story anew, I thought of a comparison between Daniel and the Prodigal Son of Luke 15. Each is a story about a young man going to a distant country. One is removed by force and his God and holy Father accompanies him. In the other story, the son of Luke 15 leaves his Father by his own choice and wastes his inheritance caring little of his Father’s agenda. He is in the far-away land to live for himself. He judges for himself what matters and what matters not. For Daniel, God is his judge. The holy life he pursues is not in a temple made with hands but in a place in his heart occupied only by God. He never leaves God, and God never leaves him.
In the prodigal story, the son comes to himself, returns to his senses and journeys home. The Father, waiting and watching, sees him a long way off, runs, embraces and welcomes the son home. Fatted calf, ring and robe reveal to us the enormity of what was lost and is now found. No grander story is in the whole of scripture. In my estimation, it is the meta-narrative of God’s divine agenda.
Now, back to Daniel. He knows God is Judge. Everything Daniel does is under that banner. As far as we know, Daniel never returns to the land of his people. In Ezra and Nehemiah we are thrilled to see the exiles return, but no mention of Daniel. Various traditions lean toward Daniel having been buried in Babylon, modern day Iraq. In that sense, he never returns home. But Daniel’s home seems to be not so much in the holy hill of Jerusalem as it is in the holy heart of God. His place with God is not determined by zip code, region or proximity to a sacred landscape. He never left God and God never left him.
Many have rightly observed that the central message of the book of Daniel is the sovereignty of God. God is over all. Daniel understood this as well as anyone else in all of scripture. Before Daniel is done, he unfolds in dramatic fashion how God will be there when kingdoms come and kingdoms go. He explains in visions and interpretation how a kingdom will come and conduct heaven’s business on earth. It’s heady exciting stuff. If you haven’t read Daniel in a while, treat yourself to a story who has a true hero at its center. A man for whom only God is judge.