Equipping Christians & churches for whole-life discipleship in the world.

Daniel (9): Crying Out For Justice?

February 18, 2013
18 Feb 2013

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion…
our captors asked for songs of joy…
How can we sing the songs of the LORD
while in a foreign land?
… Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction,
happy is the one who repays you
according to what you have done to us.
Happy is the one who seizes your infants
and dashes them against the rocks.
Psalm 137

Daniel had been taken into exile with perhaps thousands of Judeans. Many may have become slaves, used as cheap labour in the fields and cities of Babylon. As we read this Psalm, we can feel the raw emotion of desolation and hopelessness, where the only comfort is the thought of revenge and judgment. Daniel knew the prophecy of Jeremiah, so perhaps some of the exiles knew the reference in 51:56, that ‘a destroyer will come against Babylon… for the LORD is a God of retribution; he will repay in full’. They cried out for justice that would repay the Babylonians in full.

There are a number of Psalms that contain ‘curses’, sometimes arising from a legitimate concern for the honour of God: ‘Rise up, O God, and defend your cause’ (74:22). There are also calls for a demonstration of God’s judgment that will bring his enemies to their senses: ‘The righteous will be glad when they are avenged… Then people will say, “Surely the righteous still are rewarded; surely there is a God who judges the earth”’ (58:10-11).

Perhaps answers to the problem of these ‘curses’ lie in two New Testament themes. Firstly, there is the teaching of Paul in Romans 12: ‘Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse… Do not repay anyone evil for evil’ (12:14, 17). Paul quotes Deuteronomy 32:35, ‘Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay”.’ These cries from the depths of desolation and persecution are cries for God’s judgment, not by human acts of revenge, but within God’s purposes, and sometimes by the judicial processes of the state.

The second answer comes from Jesus himself and his journey to the cross. He knew the depths of desolation when assailed by the worst humans can do; he knelt in anguish in Gethsemane, and he cried out from the cross as he bore the weight of sin. He took the judgment and the wrath not only for our rebellion against God, but for all the terrible things humans have done to each other, from the days of the Babylonians to the wars of the last hundred years. In humility and repentance we accept the boundless grace of his forgiveness and pray for our enemies to find it too.
Margaret Killingray

 

Daniel (8): Daniel Prayed

February 11, 2013
11 Feb 2013

I, Daniel, understood from the scriptures, according to the word of the LORD given to Jeremiah the prophet, that the desolation of Jerusalem would last seventy years. So I turned to the Lord God and pleaded with him in prayer and petition, in fasting, and in sackcloth and ashes.

Daniel 9:2-3

 

Daniel prayed regularly – three times a day, with his window open towards Jerusalem far away to the west (6:10). Through visions he had had a glimpse of God’s sovereign purposes on a larger canvas – that all in the end would work out as planned. But he was still an exile, far from home; there was little chance of his returning; the years were against him; Jerusalem was a ruin. He might have been praying, in the words of Psalm 13 perhaps, ‘How long, LORD? Will you forget me for ever?’

And then Daniel understood from the prophet Jeremiah (25:11; 29:10) that the time of desolation would be limited. He looked out on pagan Babylon and beyond to ruined Jerusalem and he knew the holy city would rise from the ashes, the exiles would return, and Babylon would be punished. So he could settle down, happy it would work out, and enjoy a peaceful old age by the waters of Babylon.

But he prayed, and set down a prayer, not of simple trust and contented hope for the future, but of confession and passionate pleading – identifying himself with his exiled and defeated nation in acknowledgement of their disobedience and failure to repent. He understood that God’s ‘covenant of love’ (9:4) was a two-way commitment, and he prayed about unfaithfulness and shame, ending with a cry from the heart: ‘Lord, listen! Lord, forgive! Lord, hear and act! For your sake, my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name’ (9:19).

For Christians who are a minority in cultures that despise those who cling to such ‘props’, Daniel’s prayer is a challenge. Our prayers may well include confession of our own failings, and requests of all kinds. But how often do we pray for our wider society – community, workplace, nation – recognising our complicity in failings and compromises, self-seeking and consumerism, glossings and half-truths? Do we look out on a fallen and dysfunctional world with impatience or with humility and neighbour love? Our hope is secure: God’s kingdom will come, heaven and earth will be restored. Meanwhile, in his graciousness, he calls us to align our prayers not only with his purposes but in solidarity with fallen people.

Margaret Killingray

 

Daniel (7): Daniel and Reality

November 19, 2012
19 Nov 2012

While I, Daniel, was watching the vision and trying to understand it, there before me stood one who looked like a man. And I heard a man’s voice… calling, ‘Gabriel, tell this man the meaning of the vision.’ As he came near the place where I was standing, I was terrified and fell prostrate. ‘Son of man,’ he said to me, ‘understand that the vision concerns the time of the end.’
Daniel 8:15-17

‘I don’t believe my eyes!’ said the father when his son washed up without being asked. ‘I don’t believe my eyes!’ said the teacher when the student produced a very high grade. But, of course, we do believe our eyes; practical, down-to-earth, scientifically educated (sort of) people believe their eyes. What they don’t find easy to believe are visions and dreams and the future foretold.

Daniel was intelligently faithful in his work as he served the kings of Babylon. But it was not where he thought he should be; his place was in faraway Jerusalem. He had been conquered, stripped of all status, taken captive, shipped into exile, and put to work in an alien culture. As far as he knew, God’s plans had simply fizzled out in a destroyed Jerusalem. The temple was in ruins, and the temple treasures were in the museums of Babylon. He had seen them profaned at a king’s drunken banquet.

But God came to Daniel in a series of visions, saying, in effect: ‘Don’t believe your eyes! Don’t for one moment think that these tawdry kingdoms, ruled by petty tyrants, are anything more than a blip in time. The times are in my hands and always have been. The end will come as I have always planned. Be assured that I am the reality and the truth behind the created universe and the whole history of this world.’

So when we get bogged down in a fiercely secularised way of thinking; when statistics and focus groups are the reality, telling us the ‘truth’; when closed cause-and-effect arguments totally and caustically leave out God, then remember Daniel. He never saw Jerusalem again in his lifetime, but he recorded the visions by which God assured and convinced him that the glory of Jerusalem would be restored.

We should take his visions seriously, as well as the visions of Ezekiel and Revelation, even though Christians have argued about the times they refer to. Take seriously the things Jesus said about the end of time. We should live in this reality – intelligently faithful like Daniel, engaging with the culture around us, doing what we can to encourage human flourishing – but knowing that there is a greater reality, a richer future coming, that nothing can derail.

Margaret Killingray

Daniel (6): Facing Jealousy

November 12, 2012
12 Nov 2012

Now Daniel so distinguished himself… that the king
planned to set him over the whole kingdom. At this,
the administrators and the satraps tried to find
grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of
government affairs, but they were unable to do so…
Finally these men said, ‘We will never find any basis
for charges against this man Daniel unless it has
something to do with the law of his God.’
Daniel 6:3-5

Daniel had ‘distinguished himself’ under Darius, who planned to appoint him over the whole kingdom, upsetting the other local and national ministers. So a conspiracy to entrap Daniel began. But, ‘they could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent’ (6:4). Was this just jealousy, or did they have uncomfortable ethical issues with Daniel in charge? Was Daniel responsible for rooting out corruption, for ensuring that the laws were administered justly and that only appropriate expenses were claimed?

There certainly seems to have been a racial issue: ‘Daniel, who is one of the exiles from Judah, pays no attention to you’ (6:13), they reported to the king. For them he was still, after all those years, an alien worshipping a foreign god. Casting around for some way to bring Daniel down, they realised that his religion was the one area where they could catch him out. They knew that he would not compromise his faith.

Darius was flattered and happy to sign an edict, proposed by his administration, for a period of religious observance during which he alone as ‘divine’ king would receive the peoples’ prayers. And, of course, Daniel’s colleagues knew that Daniel would not comply. He did as he had always done, praying regularly to the living God, with his windows open towards distant Jerusalem. Darius was deeply distressed when he realised he had inadvertently signed Daniel’s death warrant.

Once again we see Daniel working diligently and with distinction in the service of the rulers of Babylon. He and the other Hebrew exiles administered the laws, saw to the smooth running of the kingdom, and cooperated with their colleagues in the state apparatus. But there would come a point where their cooperation ended, they would dig in their heels and take the consequences. This time the angel of the Lord delivered Daniel from the den of lions, and Darius acknowledged the living God.

At what point do we dig in our heels, challenged by regulations and practices that we cannot in all conscience obey? God can change circumstances and minds and thus deliver us – but if not?

Margaret Killingray

Daniel (5): Truth Telling

October 15, 2012
15 Oct 2012

Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify
the King of heaven, because everything he does is right
and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride
he is able to humble.
Daniel 4:37

But you, Belshazzar, his son, have not humbled yourself,
though you knew all this. Instead, you have set yourself
up against the Lord of heaven… You did not honour the
God who holds in his hand your life and all your ways.
Daniel 5:22-23

Daniel told the truth. He told unpalatable truth to tyrants with absolute power. He interpreted their dreams, however damning, as the Lord revealed them to him. His friends told the truth when threatened with death by fire. They told the truth because the God of heaven was their very breath. In the end Nebuchadnezzar accepted the truth that came from the Most High God, and his last recorded words before he disappears from the story are words of praise and worship.

But his successor didn’t seem to know Daniel, who may have been in retirement. All we know of Belshazzar is that he held a great feast, got very drunk, and used the drinking vessels from the Temple to entertain his wives and girlfriends and the powerful of Babylon. And then the moving finger wrote on the plastered wall, and eventually Daniel was called to face this drunk and rather scared bully and to read the cryptic signs.

So once more Daniel stood up to tell the truth. In doing so, he was uncompromising, scathing in his criticism, refusing any reward. He told the king that he had learnt nothing and that judgment was about to fall. The next day Belshazzar was dead and Darius the Mede was in charge.

But this is complicated truth. It is not truth of the ‘Did you break that window? Yes or no?’ type. It is truth that arises out of a close relationship with the Lord, letting God’s wisdom, God’s law, God’s character inform understanding. It is truth that is fed by a sympathetic and careful assessment of the politics and culture of the surrounding world. It is truth mulled over in prayer with close advisers. And it is truth delivered in different modes. With Nebuchadnezzar it was truth that allowed the king space to think it all through, so that eventually he was a changed man. With Belshazzar the truth was hard-hitting judgment.

How do we speak the truth?

Margaret Killingray

Daniel (4): But If Not…

September 3, 2012
03 Sep 2012

Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, ‘King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If the God we serve is able to deliver us, then he will deliver us from the blazing furnace and from Your Majesty’s hand. But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.’
Daniel 3:16-18

Daniel, feted and promoted by the king, had asked that his three companions should be appointed over the affairs of the province of Babylon. Did he think they would be safer away from Nebuchadnezzar’s court? The king, however, decided that the civil servants of the provinces needed a lesson in obedience. They were all to bow down before a golden idol. If they refused they would die in a fiery furnace.

There is a story that an officer organising the evacuation of troops from the beaches of Dunkirk in 1940 sent his family a telegram which simply said, ‘But if not…’ He knew they would know what he meant. He longed for rescue, but he would trust God whatever the outcome.

For the three servants of the Lord God of Israel, their spectacular story had a miraculous ending, as they walked out of the fire unharmed. But they didn’t know how it would end when they refused to obey the king’s command. Disciples of the living God have no guarantee of special favours or an easy life. A gospel that expects health and prosperity in exchange for faith makes faith and trust meaningless.

There were just three of them in a powerfully intimidating situation, thousands of miles from home and from fellow believers, not knowing whether, back in Jerusalem, any of the structures and observances of their faith still survived. Some Christian minorities today face vicious persecution for refusing to bow to godless power, whether in the form of discriminatory laws or vengeful mobs.

For most of us the challenge may come from sceptical and sometimes belligerently hostile attitudes to our faith. But when we are tempted to fudge an issue of integrity, to concede and compromise, then our witness, like theirs, is to our Lord who walks with us in the fiery places. When we long with all our hearts for an outcome that matters very much, we too have to say, ‘But if not…’ We know that ‘all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose’ (Romans 8:28), one way or another.


Margaret Killingray

Daniel (3): Daniel and the Tyrant

August 27, 2012
27 Aug 2012

‘If you do not tell me the dream, there is only one penalty for you…’ The astrologers answered the king, ‘There is not a person on earth who can do what the king asks!’… This made the king so angry and furious that he ordered the execution of all the wise men of Babylon.
Daniel 2:9-12

There have been many tyrants in our world over the past seventy years or so, vicious and unpredictable men with the power and means to terrorise and destroy. Nebuchadnezzar was probably not the first, and certainly not the last to have filled his servants with dread and anxious insecurity.

The ‘wise men’ of Babylon were commanded to interpret the king’s disturbing dreams; only he refused to tell them what they were. This was a ‘public decree’ and failure meant death. They would probably have told the king anything to keep him happy. But they were caught between an impossible demand and the arbitrary and irrelevant messages from their occult practices and divinations. Desperate enough to remonstrate, they were soon herded together for execution while the king’s troops went off to find Daniel and his companions, also the king’s ‘wise men’, in order to execute them as well.

Daniel took the initiative. ‘With wisdom and tact’ (2:14), he questioned the executioner, assessed the situation, and then asked for a short delay, saying that he would give the interpretation. He and the other Hebrews began a night of urgent prayer, and in the night God revealed to Daniel the king’s troublesome dreams.

Daniel demonstrated faith, courage and diplomacy. He trusted in God’s greater purposes. But he and his friends always had a ‘but if not’ clause – they might die themselves, but God’s purposes would never be thwarted (see 3:18). He did all he could to save the Babylonian wise men; he didn’t distance himself from the pagan magicians or take advantage of them. He had taken the trouble to understand the culture and worldview round him and knew enough about the king to interpret his frightened and angry demands. But he would only speak the truth. He may have been apprehensive, but he was never scared witless – because he knew the living God was with him.

Christians in some parts of the world today face similar kinds of life-threatening tyranny. But for most of us it may be the petty tyrannies of school bullying, office rivalries, unpredictable bosses and domestic aggression. How do we handle these?

 

Margaret Killingray

Daniel (2): Engaging with a World

August 20, 2012
20 Aug 2012

To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning. And Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds.
Daniel 1:17

My father-in-law was a faithful hard-working Christian, who helped found a church, and was Sunday school superintendent and church secretary for many years. But he never voted, and viewed much of the world’s activities as something to be avoided. When we trotted in from university full of the sociology and economics we were studying, his response was, ‘The world by wisdom knew not God’ (1 Corinthians 1:21). He thought there were better things to do!

Daniel, forcibly removed from his God-focused society into comfortable but restrictive house arrest in a pagan land, did have a few choices. He could have refused to cooperate and been intransigently hostile, probably ending up dead or enslaved. He could have simply given up, accepted total defeat and obediently done what he was told.

Instead he and his friends went to the enemy’s schools, learnt to function in an alien culture and language, read the literature, and engaged with the worldview. But at the same time they chose to maintain their independence as the servants of the one true God. Daniel decided to refuse the food allocated them from the king’s kitchens. And because ‘God had caused the official to show favour and compassion to Daniel’ (1:9), they were permitted to live on vegetables.

They established their independence and essential difference from the enveloping and swamping totality of the imperial culture and social world of the palace, with an act of self-effacing humility and self-discipline, without rancour, or disdain for their captors. And after their training, no one was found to compare with them. They were now in a position to influence events within the throne room of a powerful king.

Someone once said that Christians in the world are sometimes chameleons, fading into the colour of the culture, sometimes ostriches with heads in the sand avoiding all contact, and sometimes porcupines, confronting with hackles raised. Daniel chose to understand the world he was in, to respond with courtesy and friendship to his captors, but also to establish his credentials as a servant of the living God.

How do we respond to the world we inhabit?

 

Margaret Killingray

Daniel (1): Living as Exiles

August 13, 2012
13 Aug 2012

Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring into the king’s service some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility – young men without physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace.
Daniel 1:3-4

Fit, handsome, privileged, with top drawer education, four self-confident young men stride into a London firm to start work, and after hours London will be their playground. Six months into their new jobs they are transferred to the firm’s offices in a country far from home. They don’t know the language, their colleagues are suspicious, and their social habits give offence, particularly those relating to alcohol and women. For the first time they are no longer comfortable, no longer able to read the culture, no longer able to communicate freely.

Daniel and his friends were transferred from Jerusalem to Babylon, to permanent exile from home. Family, culture, language, traditions, and all the familiar practices, places and rituals of the worship of their God were stripped away.

On the whole humans do not ‘do’ exile very well. Much of our sense of wellbeing depends on patterns and routines that we know, places and homes where we are comfortable, people with whom we are easy. And great adventures and gap years are the more enjoyable for knowing that home is waiting for us.

When we are suddenly and unexpectedly thrown into an unfamiliar landscape where we are no longer sure of ourselves, our self-confidence as well as our God-confidence can be knocked sideways. But we don’t always have to travel to find ourselves in unfamiliar landscape. Radical change sometimes comes to us so that we are ‘exiles’ in our own once familiar world. Large-scale developments, loss of work, bereavement, or technological change can all make ‘home’ unfamiliar. Even welcomed change – marriage, a first child, retirement, or the job we always wanted, can upset our equilibrium and make us feel no longer ‘at home’.

Yet ‘exile’ is one of the biblical pictures of our lives on earth – ‘aliens and strangers’ in the world (1 Peter 2:11), not having an enduring city, but looking for the city that is to come (Hebrews 13:14), citizens of heaven, not of this earth, so compromised and tawdry (Philippians 3:20). Rescued from slavery, we are led on a journey, always in temporary accommodation, onwards to a perfect home and until we get there we are never totally at home. How did Daniel respond to exile? How should we?

 

Margaret Killingray