The Gravity Of Faith.
Daniel 1 – 6.
Our first introduction to the Book of Daniel was likely to be the stories of Hananiah, Mishael, Azariah and Daniel, respectively surviving King Nebuchadnezzar’s fiery cauldron and King Darius’ lions’ den. These identity-shaping stories of faith and courage continue to deliver relevant lessons today despite the many interpretative issues that make the Book one of the most challenging in Scriptural scholarship. The background was in Jerusalem in 586 BC, during the reign of King Jehoiakim, when Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian King, besieged it and subsequently captured the city. The incident brought not only physical desolation but also psychological and theological devastation as Zion’s inviolability (i.e., the presence of Yahweh in His Temple) proved to be a myth. He commanded that Judah’s entire literati be uprooted and taken to Babylon. The general drift of Daniel’s message, however, is that despite the insecurities and turmoil afflicting His people through the ages, God is ultimately in complete control.
While in captivity, intellectually well-endowed young men were chosen and forcibly made to learn the literature and language of the Chaldeans. They were not given any choices as to how they lived their lives in a foreign cultural milieu that was vehemently opposed to their faith and their way of life. They possessed neither voice nor rights but earned an unhealthy suspicion from their captors, which most likely was also mutual. How did they remain faithful to the Lord of Israel, when every move they made was closely watched? Under these exigent survival conditions, one either becomes anxiously resentful and paranoid or one allows faith to transform one’s attitude. The depth of their faith that eventually expressed itself indicated an extremely high view of Yahweh and an unreserved trust in Him. These young Jewish scholars did not seek God’s opinion nor His assurance that He would deliver them, and without any apparent instructions from Him, they nonchalantly accepted their dire punishments; forcing God’s hand. They cultivated a faith under an oppressive and brutal anti-Yahweh regime by literally putting their lives unconditionally on the line, in God’s hands, as they commenced their service in the Babylonian court.
To survive their forcible assimilation into a foreign sociopolitical environment and yet to remain ethnically intact and spiritually relevant in their testimony, Hananiah, Mishael, Azariah and Daniel had to tread cautiously as they upheld a level of civil disobedience, knowing that the risks for confrontation were enormous and in the long term inescapable. But in serving the king faithfully and to the best of their abilities, they were serving God! (c.f., Eph 6:5-7). They determined that being faithful to Yahweh took precedence over their very existence, and hence being hostile to civil authorities in matters of their faith and righteousness was uncompromisable (c.f., Phil 3:7-11). These lessons in Daniel remain a poignant reminder for us as we sensitively consider the struggles of subjugated Christian minorities or refugees in the nations around us, as they contend with prejudicial and deleterious political, cultural and economic systems.
Daniel and his companions through their exploits challenge us as to the reality of our faith in God – are our beliefs and therefore our faith just ‘skin deep’ or like Paul, can we count all things, even our life, a loss to gain Christ!