Posts Tagged ‘Daniel’

Daniel, who wears lightly the burden of his imperial name Belteshazzar, inhabits a moment when a tyrant’s rage takes life without so much as a footnote.

Circumstances have placed the young Jewish exile in the most strategic of the pagan court’s hallways. He makes friends among the pagans, those friends face insufferable demands, needy friends reach out to Daniel. So does life roll in the space of this low-profile, precocious Jew, far from home but awake to his moment. (more…)


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The biblical book of Daniel delights in narrating the temporary collapse of the Babylonian king who held the Judaean exiles in captivity. Simultaneously, its author asks the reader to learn from the royal demise. If this kind of thing can happen to a pagan king, we are urged to consider, it can happen to anyone.

While the words were still in the king’s mouth, a voice came from heaven: ‘O King Nebuchadnezzar, to you it is declared: The kingdom has departed from you! You shall be driven away from human society, and your dwelling shall be with the animals of the field. You shall be made to eat grass like oxen, and seven times shall pass over you, until you have learned that the Most High has sovereignty over the kingdom of mortals and gives it to whom he will.’ Immediately the sentence was fulfilled against Nebuchadnezzar. He was driven away from human society, ate grass like oxen, and his body was bathed with the dew of heaven, until his hair grew as long as eagles’ feathers and his nails became like birds’ claws. (Daniel 4.31–33 NRSV)

The king goes animal before us. (more…)

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The best way to become wiser is to be wise in the first place.

Wisdom is a progressive ordering of one’s life. It is cumulative. The more one learns, the more one can learn. In the context of that blending of wisdom and apocalyptic traditions that occurs in the book of Daniel, a key criterion for Daniel’s reception of divine revelation when failure would have meant death was to have become wise prior to the crisis. (more…)

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It is not as though Daniel and his friends in the biblical book that bears his name lack credentials. The book’s introductory narrative places them among the cream of the Israelite exiles.

Then (the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar) commanded Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility, youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace … (Daniel 1.3–4 ESV)

These men come from good stock and have made the most of the opportunities that good circumstance affords. They are scholar-athletes who have not apologized for the exertions required to discover wisdom and cultivate knowledge. Our populist ideology might fault them for having ‘pursued learning’. The text, by contrast, considers this to be evidence of their honorable nature. They are socially poised. Put these guys in any situation and they’ll know how to handle themselves.

Their shoes are shined. (more…)

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Daniel stands out in a superficial reading of the book that bears his name as a Golden Boy, a larger-than-life Man of Principle who was destined before time to stare down the powers and prove the superiority of Israel’s God in a pagan environment.

No reading undercuts the true nature of the text more easily than this facile understanding of heroism as a thing that simply had to be.

Real human beings never experience heroism as predetermined, an indelible script written into their days. After the glorious deed, the heroic figure is often more surprised than anyone that he turned out to be … well … a hero. (more…)

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Pathetic Belshazzar, king of the Babylonians, is that shadowy diminishment of his great father Nebuchadnezzar that is familiar to readers of royal drama.

Our phrase ‘the writing is on the wall’—everyone knows what it means—comes from a frightening incident on the last day of this king’s sad, little life. Yet we struggle to recall Belshazzar’s name. (more…)

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Committed fans of sweetness and light need not consult seventh chapter of the biblical book of Daniel.

Placed in the time of the weak-kneed Babylonian king Belshazzar—it is notable how much the brute power of empire compensates for frailty at the top—the story shows us the Judahite exile Daniel terrified by his bizarre night-time visions.

They are not, to put it mildly, a pretty sight. Waves of animalesque imagery flood the man’s brain. These are interpreted as the comings and goings of great empires, a theme that ought to have made Belshazzar’s knees knock still more. Empires, after all, presume and when necessary insist upon their own permanence.

The exile’s dreams say otherwise. (more…)

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Badly as Babylon’s King Nebuchadnezzar comes off, he is the moral equivalent of a rock star when placed alongside his pitiable son Belshazzar. For all his overweening pride, the pater familias of this dubious tribe at least learned the lesson that ‘the God of the heavens is sovereign over the affairs of men and gives rule and power to whomever he wills’. Thought it took becoming an animal to figure this out, the biblical book of Daniel at least credits the now defunct Nebuchadnezzar for his tuition.

Not so Belshazzar the son, a man who earns that lamentable historical badge of being the last leader of an empire. Belshazzar will learn nothing and will die in the very night his chickens come home to roost. (more…)

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Babylon’s king Nebuchadnezzar does not come off well in the biblical book of Daniel. It is not difficult to find in the text’s description of his behavior the definition of a neurotic fool.

Yet below the obvious humorous touches in the book’s way of telling a story, a more subtle irony may be detected. Frankly, it is difficult to know whether this kind of thing is really there or whether we read it into the text because we rather like this kind of thing. One such soft-spoken irony is borne along by the Aramaic word gala’ and related forms. (more…)

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The remarkable vision of the book of Daniel involved a lot of giving and receiving. This redemptive-historical passing of the baton occurs with regard to great pagan kings who must learn that their dominion has been given to them, the stripping of imperial privilege from one pretender after another and its deliverance into the hands of a successor, and the Ancient of Days’ deliverance of a power that was apparently his to claim from the start into the possession of ‘one like a son of man’. (more…)

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