Over the years there has been concern about the Ten Commandments being taken out of our public spaces. This is a multifaceted issue in our culture. When Christians are asked to list off the Ten Commandments, a significant number of them cannot. Is that the issue though? For a lot of Christians, the issue is about the USA losing its identity as a “Christian Nation.” If our emblems are removed from our public spaces, will God’s presence be removed from our nation? I want to keep these questions in mind as we read through The Story this week.
One of the images from last week’s reading that has stuck with me into this week is the image of God moving east out of Jerusalem. The image Ezekiel has is of God following His people into Babylon. He has disciplined them by sending them into exile but He has not abandoned them. This week’s reading covers roughly 70 years of God’s people being in exile. In today’s reflections, I want to mainly focus on the book of Daniel.
The book of Daniel is set right after Babylon’s first attack on Jerusalem and they had plundered the city and its temple and taken a group of Israelites into exile. Among them, four men from the royal family of David: Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abedmego. The book tells of their struggle to maintain home in the land of their conqueror. How will God’s people retain their identity as God’s people in a foreign land. Daniel is one of those books that the structure of the book communicates the message as much as the stories within the book do.
The book’s design is simple at first glance. Chapters 1-6 are about Daniel and his friends in Babylon while chapters 7-12 contain the visions of Daniel about the future (which are not in our readings in The Story this week). This two-part shape structure is made even more interesting by another design feature. The book is actually written in two different languages. The first chapter of Daniel is written in Hebrew, the language of the Israelites but chapters 2-7 are written in Aramaic, a cousin language to Hebrew, spoken widely among the ancient empires. Chapters 8-12 then go back to Hebrew. The language difference demonstrates that chapters 2-7 should be read as a coherent section and highlights the importance of chapters 2 and 7 for understanding the later chapters of the book.
The first chapter of Daniel introduces the basic attention of the first half of the book. Daniel and his friends are really wise and capable. They are recruited to serve in the Royal Palace of Babylon and are pressured to give up their Jewish identity by living and eating like Babylonians (and giving up the Jewish food laws found in the Torah). In order to make it in this new nation, they will need to give up their old identity. They have been removed from access to the Temple and the emblems that mark them as God’s people have been removed. What is the response of Daniel and his three friends? Live out faithfulness to God powerfully in the face of a culture that is changing the rules on what it means to live. As our emblems are continually removed from our culture, the greatest response we can have is one of faithful living. What would it look like if Christians stood up and said, “We will be the presence of the Ten Commandments in this nation”? As you read this week, reflect on what it looks like for Christians to live counter culturally in what some are calling “Post-Christian” America.
This post has already gotten pretty long and there’s a lot more to say about the book of Daniel. I’m posting a great video below that sketches out the structure of Daniel in a way that is easy to follow. I think it’ll be worth 8min of your time to watch it. Here are some of the highlights that need to be heard:
1. Daniel’s interpretation of Neb.s dream is basically saying that God’s Kingdom will humble and bring down ALL of the kingdoms of this world.
2. Ch 4-5 – Stories of two kings (father and son) who are called to humble themselves before God. Neb goes mad/crazy and ends up acting like a beast in a field. He humbles himself before God and gets better. His son does not humble himself before God and is assassinated that same night. This is drawing on the imagery that we are made in the image of God. When we make ourselves out to be god we become less than human because we become less than the image of God. We therefore become like beasts.
3. Ch 7 – Daniel has a dream about beasts but needs the dream interpreted. The beasts represent these kings who exalt themselves above God and persecute God’s people (The better you understand what is going on here in Daniel, the better you will understand the imagery of Revelation). God destroys the beast(s) and exalts the “Son of Man” (covenant people and their king) to his right hand.
4. The final visions of Daniel have been interpreted in a number of ways but each interpretation doesn’t match up with the numbers and imagery perfectly. Each are right in their own way. The book of Daniel is written to give hope to each generation reading it. That is why the imagery can be adapted by other, including Jesus and John the author of Revelation. The point? There is a pattern and promise for all generations: Pattern – Human beings become beasts when they don’t acknowledge God’s Kingdom. Promise – God will confront the beast and rescue His world by bringing His Kingdom over all nations.
5. This book communicates a message of hope that should motivate faithful living.
Check out this video on Daniel