Rev. Martha M. Shiverick
August 5, 2012

Daniel Chapters 1-6 (links to Ch. 1-3, navigate to 4-6)

I hope that you have enjoyed these sermons this summer on the great stories of the Old Testament or Common Scriptures. Eric and I have certainly enjoyed working with them and the children have been studying the same scripture passages in their Sunday School. This morning we are delving into the Book of Daniel, which is a later book of the Old Testament set in a period of harshness for the Jews when they were no longer in their promised land but were foreigners in Babylonia. This as not an easy time for the followers of our God and there was a lot of persecution and hardship. The book reflects this in its themes and the promises it teaches.

The book of Daniel can be divided neatly into two distinct sections. The first half of the book is made up of little stories that we all have heard that are almost like the stories of the Arabian Nights, set in a world of kings, harems, bawdy pagan rituals, and bizarre methods of capital punishment, while the second half of the book is a scary story about the end of time. This eschatological vision tells of three distinct apocalypses with symbolic beasts and monsters. It sounds a lot like the New Testament book of Revelation, whereas Revelations is poetic, these stories in Daniel are scary… The stuff out of which nightmares are made.

So for this morning, I am going to focus on the first six chapters, which are a kind of Paul Bunyon stories of a smart young Jewish man named Daniel and his three friends Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. There are six short vignettes in these first six chapters which have a common theme. They are about these young men living in a country where they are the outsiders, where they need to match wits with the best of the non-Jews and come up on top. The setting for the stories is important as they. Add the tension to them. They are in exile, and Nebuchadnezzar and his decedents were kings. The writer’s forte was not historical accuracy, but int that he was a great story teller. So, I will briefly tell you the wonderful stories of these young faithful young men.

The first story tells of their faith. They were brought to the court of King Nebuchadnezzar to be wise men or magicians. The king was not prejudice of outsiders and gave them equal education and room and board even though they were Jews. Now we don’t exactly know what an observant Jew would eat in the third or second century BC as the Jewish dietary laws we know had not yet been established. But we do know that pork was not allowed to be consumed and can also assume that meat that is too bloody would be considered defiled. What we do know is that Daniel refused to eat the rich and wonderful food that was offered to the wise-men and that the young Jewish men remained healthy in spite of their living off of what the king and his steward considered a starvation diet. The young men realized that a Jew who is true to hs heritage can make it in Babylon, this foreign city whose inhabitants worshiped other gods. The young men did not have to compromise their faith and heritage and give up their identity while living in the King Nebudchadnezzar’s court.

In the second vignette we see Daniel at work as a wise man! The king is having these terrible reoccurring nightmares. They haunt him. He knows it must be a message, but doesn’t know the meaning. So, he asks the wise men in his court to help; but to be sure that they are indeed wise men, he does not just ask them to interpret the dream, but to tell him what was in the dream as well. None of the wise men can do it and the king is angered. That is none of the wise men but Daniel. Daniel prays to God to give him insight and God gives him the power to perform the miracle of dream recall and interpretation. The dream is bizarre. A huge metal statue is cut down and it then becomes a mountain. As Daniel interprets it, it is pro-Babylonain and pro king Nebudchanezzar. The king is ecstatic and wants to reward Daniel, but he attributes his success to God. none the less, he and his three friends are rewarded and the king praises God, saying Truly, your God is God of gods and Lord of kings, and a revealer of mysteries as you have been able to reveal this mystery to me.

In the third chapter, this vignette might be called, “It’s cool in the furnace Lord” . This chapter of the book is different than the other six chapters we are looking at this morning in that Daniel is missing and the king is not seen as been lenient, but a tyrant. After Daniel’s success of interpreting dreams his friends Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were also put in higher positions in the kingdom. During this time, a law was established that all of Nebucanezzer’s subjects must worship a golden image. The three young Jewish men would not even after being threatened. When they were eventually brought to court, they did not even try and defend themselves. They said that if God could deliver them from the situation they were in, then God will; but more importantly even if God could not save them, they would not worship the golden image of Babylon. To quote St Augustine, “a martyr is made by his or her cause, not by their punishment.”

So the three young men are sentenced to death and were to be thrown into a fiery furnace. Somehow while they are being thrown it, the executioners trip and fall into the furnace too. The executioners die, but somehow the jewish young men survive! They are in the tent and a forth voice of God’s angel is heard in the furnace with them. When they open the furnace, the three men come out. They are not hurt, not even singed in any way. The king professes that God is powerful and that the God of the Jews delivers.

The next vignette is similar to the second one. In this forth chapter, Daniel once again finds himself in the position of being called on to interpret the king’s nightmares. And again, Daniel is asked not just to interpret the dream, but he must also be able to tell the king what the steal was he was having. This time it took an even more skillful person as the message Daniel had to tell the king was not a happy one. Daniel says the king needs to break off his sinful ways and practice righteous leadership to the oppressed. Daniel explains that God is overlord of all kings, and that he only allows power and might to the righteous. To Daniel’s credit, the king changes his ways.

In the fifth chapter, a new king has taken rule after the old one has died. This one is a king named Belshazzar. He needs a wise man who can interpret strange writing that has appeared on a wall. He calls on Daniel and all the other wise men to tell him what this graffiti from God can mean. Daniel is brought in to solve the mystery of this disembodied writing might mean after the others can not. Daniel again had to tell a king what God was displeased with the way he was ruling Babylonia. The king listened to what Daniel had to say and respected his counsel so much that he made him the number 3 man in the government.

Which leads us to the sixth little story of how Daniel ends up getting trapped by his fellow court rulers and thrown into a lions pit by a king who loved and respected him. This is the story that we all know so well. It is the one that is depicted in art and children’s Bibles we all have seen and grown up with.

At this point, we know that the king really respects Daniel. He has made him one of three presidents in the land and he and several kings before him have come to appreciate his counsel and advice. I am sure because of this, Daniel also had made many enemies who wanted to have him knocked down a peg or two. So these other rulers conspire to get rid of him. They make a rule that for thirty days any man who worships or petitions in prayer to anyone besides the king will be thrown into a den of lions. Daniel is a practicing Jew who prayed three times a day facing Jerusalem and he is caught in the act of this civil disobedience. The trap works and Daniel is brought before the king who says to him, ” may your god whom you serve continually deliver you.”. It is the kings benediction to his friend and Otis uttered in a hope and a challenge to God.

And as we know an angel was with Daniel in the lion’s pit and the angel shut the lions’ mouths. As the Angel protected him, it was said that no kind of hurt was found upon him, because he had trusted in his God. The chapter and the first half of the book of Daniel ends with a king of another faith singing a hymn of thanksgiving and praise to our God who saved Daniel form the jaws of the powerful lions.

Some theologians wonder why even study the book of Daniel at all. Is there a message for us today in these six little vignettes that are found in the first six chapters of the book of Daniel. Are they really stories that are about men of faith that are set too long ago and too far away to give meaning to us today? It seems that theme of all the stories is that those who trust and obey God will be vindicated. If I were a tele-evangelist whose purpose was only to make you feel warm and fuzzy about God and give you a sure and easy equation for happiness and salvation, this certainly would be the angle I took in my sermon today. And that is a great feel good theme,and that theme would be great if it were true. But we know that statements like be good and all will be well, do not play out in real life. We who are honest about life know that very good people have some pretty miserable things happening to them. I was driving to work the other day feeling overwhelmed as I mentally counted all the very good Fairmounters who are now battling cancer. Their diagnoses do not make sense if we believe that simplistic statement that just believe and God will save you from the pit. Not one of them deserve their cancer, and even though they are good faithful people, God has not saved them from their Lion’s dens! After all, God did not save the thousands of good Jews who kept their faith from fiery pits in the camps in world war two.

But let’s go back to that story in chapter three when Daniel’s friends are in the fiery pit. I think in there we find the message that is relevant for us today. We need to ask what could being saved from a fiery pit have to say to those who are not. For people who expect God to save them from all hardship or wrong, we could assume that if we are good enough, we too will never have to face a den of lions or a fiery pit in our lives. However, that is not the theology that the author of the stories intended. If you go back to verses 16-18 in this third chapter I think we see some theology that might explain this. These are the verses that are very important to understanding what the message really is. In these verses the men about to be thrown into a fiery out were not hoping for deliverance. Their actions that brought them to the fiery pit were ones of faith. This is really a story about faithfulness being carried out for its own sake. It is not as much about being saved as its about the martyrdom of those who are willing to make sacrifices in the face of danger for principle. The childlike view is that the stories are about a god that will step in and save the faithful from all kind of wrong or pain, these stories are much more complicated. They are about being about the business our own faithfulness, as in the end that is what is important. In each of the Daniel stories, the characters are superlative in their faith. They do not give up what is important to them, but Hold on closely to their faith and heritage.

It is written that the book of Daniel gives hope and encouragement to those who are crushed by an oppressors. What we find is that it us not because of a sugary promise that the faithful will be saved, but because in the face of extreme hardship, our purpose is to continue to be faithful. Daniel and his friends serve as examples of those who keep their faith in times of trial. Keeping faith and faithfulness to God become our life vests when our lives are in their times of unrest and fierce storms. It is in the times when we feel that we have been thrown into a fiery pit or a den of lions, the stories from Daniel give us examples of not loosing faith. My hope is for all of us that when we find ourselves in times of trial, we too will be able to stand firm in our faith and principals, because in the end, that is what defines us. amen!