Toorak Uniting Church

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The Story of Daniel

Daniel 1 and 2
Rev. Anneke Oppewal
25 June 2006


This extract is taken from the Order of Service for the Whole Church Family service on Sunday, 25 June 2006.

An Introduction To The Story Of Daniel

Background to the book of Daniel

The book of Daniel does not aim to be a history text. It is a story with a moral that was written after 171 BC and before 165 BC. It is a story that is projected back into the past, to tell it’s readers what happens when people are faithful to God and their religious beliefs, followed by some visions and dreams in which the writer tries to give some comment and insight about the times he lived in without being too obvious about it. Things he couldn’t say out loud like: "The King may think he is immortal and invincible but he is not" or "don’t be afraid to stand up for who you are even if the other guy seems pretty powerful" were cleverly put into the story and the visions to support his readers and help them to make what the writer thought to be the right decisions for their own lives and faith without putting the life of the writer at risk.
We know it was written at that time because of the language it was written in (Aramaic didn’t come into use until well after Israel had been in exile) and because of the events it describes in it’s visions. Those visions are fairly easy to identify as things that happened under the reign of Antiochus Ephiphanes IV, a greek ruler who died in 163 BC.

It is a story set in Babylon one of the mightiest empires the world has ever known, at a time when the Israelites had been taken from their country and were forced to live a long way away from home, somewhere in where present day Iraq is. A lot of pressure was put on them to become Babylonians and let go of their own cultural and religious identity. Some of their most intelligent young princes invited to come and live at the court of the great King Nebuchadnezzar to be taught and raised in the way of their new homeland so they would forget where they came from and teach others of their people to do the same, so the Babylonian empire would be full of people who were happy to be there and be part of the great Babylonian dream.
With the moneys gained from their military expeditions and the treasures they had taken from all the peoples they had conquered the Babylonians had built a spectacular capital city, in which the story of Daniel is set:

Setting the scene.

We read from the Dramatised Bible.
The young men at Nebuchadnezzar’s court, Daniel 1: 1-21


Narrator 1

In the third year that Jehoiakim was king of Judah, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylonia attacked Jerusalem and surrounded the city.

Narrator 2   

God let him capture King Jehoiakim and seize some of the temple treasures. Het took some prisoners back with him to the temple of his gods in Babylon, and put the captured treasures in the temple storerooms.

Narrator 1

The king ordered Ashpenaz, his chief official, to select from among the Israelite exiles some young men of the royal family and of the noble families. They had to be handsome, intelligent, well-trained, quick to learn, and free from physical defects, so that they would be qualified to serve in the royal court. Ashpenaz was to teach them to read and write the Babylonian language.

Narrator 2

The king also gave orders that every day they were to be given the same food and wine as the members of the royal court. After three years of this training they were to appear before the king.

Narrator 1

Among those chosen were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, all of whom were from the tribe of Judah. The chief official gave them new names: Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.

Narrator 2

Daniel made up his mind not to let himself become ritually unclean by eating the food and drinking the wine of the royal court, so he asked Ashpenaz to help him, and God made Ashpenaz sympathetic to Daniel. Ashpenaz, however, was afraid of the king, so he said to Daniel:

Ashpenaz

The king has decided what you are to eat and drink, and if you don’t look as fit as the other young men, he may kill me.

Narrator 2

So Daniel went to the guard whom Ashpenaz had placed in charge of him and his friends. He said:

Daniel

Test us for ten days. Give us vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then compare us with the young men who are eating the food of the royal court, and base your decision on how we look.

Narrator 2

He agreed to let them try it for ten days.

Narrator 1

When the time was up, they looked healthier and stronger than all those who had been eating the royal food. So from then on the guard let them continue to eat vegetables instead of what the king provided.

Narrator 2

God gave the four young men knowledge and skill in literature and philosophy. In addition, he gave Daniel skill in interpreting visions and dreams.

Narrator 1

At the end of the three years set by the king, Ashpenaz took all the young men to Nebuchadnezzar. The king talked with them all, and Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah impressed him more than any of the others.

Narrator 2

So they became members of the King’s court. No matter what question the king asked, or what problem he raised, these four knew ten times more than any fortune-teller or magician in his whole kingdom.

Narrator 1

Daniel remained at the royal court until Cyrus the emperor of Persia conquered Babylonia.


Daniel 1 – Faith & Food

Daniel 1, we are what we eat.

We are what we eat, in the past two weeks that was brought home to me through two separate and very different events:

As many of you know, Arend stayed in Clunes with his school over the last 8 weeks on a camp to get some experience of what it is like to live in the country and to learn some necessary life skills like cooking, doing the laundry, cleaning and living together with 7 other boys and run a household with them. It was a special experience and we as parents were invited up at 2/3 of the way to come and see some of the things they’d learned and been up to in those weeks. We’d been asked to bring a picnic in the hope that the weather would be nice enough for us all to sit outside and enjoy the sunshine. However, Clunes being even colder than Melbourne has been for the last 8 weeks, we were forced to move inside and have our meal there. 7 families in a fairly small space, trying to all have their own picnics was an interesting experience. The Vietnamese and Japanese family had brought their rice cooker and what seemed mountains of drumsticks in soy sauce and Asian style vegetables. The true blue Aussie family had brought salad, bread and a chicken to tear apart, as well as a big jar of vegemite. There was a family from Israel who brought kosher food, including what seemed excessive amounts of avocado to us. And then there was us, with chocolate sprinkles and apple syrup spilling out of sandwiches that had been hastily prepared at home just before departure.

That’s what multi culturalism is about I thought: That we can all eat whatever we feel comfortable and happy with without offending anybody, or being laughed at. Nobody trying to get the others into their particular feeding pattern, but open enough to share if there was an opportunity. That’s where we can all grow fat and healthy like Daniel and his friends and develop and be who we are.

The other experience was the visit of Bob Randall who told us that the introduction of western food and the taking away of their hunting grounds and the foods they would traditionally have found there had meant illness, malnourishment and loss of sense of who they were. And how important and healing it was, in the program he runs for children who are ill from petrol sniffing and drug abuse, to take them back to the land and teach them the traditional ways of hunting and cooking and gathering food.

Food is important in what we are and it is important to be able to choose what we will and won’t eat and to let others make that same decision for themselves for us to be able to live together in harmony. It is important to be allowed to be what we are, even if it is different from the way I am or we are.

See says the writer of the story: In the time of mighty Babylon 4 young men stood up for their beliefs and identities and they grew big and strong and became respected members at the court of the great King Nebuchadnezzar.

Daniel 2 – Faith & Dreams

The King’s nightmare and who to blame……
Where do nightmares come from, how does it feel when you wake up after a nightmare?
Bad memories make for good nightmares, fear you feel deep inside,
Probably what happened to Nebuchadnezzar.
Bad dreams make you tetchy, and the king is definitely tetchy when he wakes up, he has had a very bad dream that has made him very worried…….

King: I’ve had a very bad dream, I feel very grumpy!

So the King challenges his advisors to tell him what he dreamed about. He probably knew full well they wouldn’t be able to do that but it would at least give him an excuse to take it out on them. Being a great King he could do what he wanted.
The advisers of course are mortified and don’t know what to do. While they hear the King stamp around his throne room, waiting for an answer, they feel more and more uncomfortable. There is no way they know what the King has been dreaming and they don’t need to guess it was an upsetting dream.
In the end they decide to go up to him and tell him he is asking the impossible: only the gods can know our dreams and the fears and fantasies that are hidden deep inside us.
At that point the King flies into a rage and orders the execution of all the royal advisers in Babylon.

King: I’d like to do something nasty to them!

Now before we go on: where do you reckon good dreams come from? Insightful dreams, dreams that make you wake up with a smile because they have shown you something good and worthwhile? When you are happy and secure and connected to good things around you and to God is where good dreams happen in bible stories.

Daniel hears what is happening, and I guess he and his friends were probably a bit worried about their own heads. So Daniel goes up to Arioch, who is the commander of the Kings body guard and probably responsible for executing people and asks for more time so he can tell the King what the dream was.
He then goes home asks his friends to pray and goes to sleep and somehow in his sleep what the King dreamed about is revealed to him so he can save his own life, the lives of his friends and the lives of all the other advisors who are at court with them.

Daniel praises God for this, who, different from the other gods, has proved to be a God who helps, who listens and reveals truth to those who worship him.

The writer says with the story: gods of others are no good in times of real trouble, but our God is. Other gods don’t listen, ours does. Other gods don’t relate, ours does.

HYMN: As Daniel was…   (apologies to Sydney Carter)
Tune: old shaker tune adapted by Sydney Carter; TIS 242

1. Now Israel was living in captivity
And they moaned and they groaned and a future couldn’t see
But Daniel and his friends, now they were bright young men
Is-raels finest, living in a pen.

Refrain: Faithful, where ever you may be
We can be followers of God you see
And as Daniel was, so pray that we can be;
God is always faithful to you and me.
2 Daniel was chosen by the king of Babylon,
The kings special training would be for three years long.
Their diet was set to be the richest royal fare,
But to break God’s laws, Daniel would not dare.

Refrain:

3. Now old king Neb-u- chad-nezzar had a dream
And it worried him so much that he couldn’t get to sleep,
His advisors couldn’t help him, but young Daniel he did
So to tell the dream, Daniel’s help was God.

Refrain:


Words: Ian G Brown


Daniel – What Goes Up…

So what was the dream?
Listen to what Daniel tells the king:

Your majesty, in your vision you saw standing before you a giant statue, bright and shining and terrifying to look at. Its head was made of the finest gold; its chest was made of silver; its waist and hips of bronze; its legs of iron and its feet partly of iron and partly of clay. While you were looking at it a great stone broke loose from a cliff without anybody touching it and struck the iron and clay feet of the structure and shattered them. At once the iron, clay, bronze, silver and gold crumbled and became like dust, the wind carried it away leaving no trace……

This is how Daniel interpreted the dream for the king:

Your majesty, you are the greatest of all kings. The God of heaven has given you power, might, and honour. He has made you ruler of everything. You are the head of gold.
After you there will be another empire, not as great as yours, and a third, which will rule the earth. And then there will be a fourth empire and that will break up the ones that have gone before it.
You also saw the feet and the toes were partly clay and partly iron, this means the fifth empire will be a divided empire, and not very strong. You saw the great stone come rolling down, it is telling you what will happen in the future: God will establish a Kingdom that will shatter all others and it will never end.

Now can you imagine why this dream frightens the King?
Can you see how Daniel puts a positive spin on it?

Here is this statue come tumbling down, spelling disaster and here is Daniel saying: King you are the greatest thing ever and even though you will come tumbling down like everybody else, at least you are the golden head, the top dog, the best ever.
Can you imagine what this did for people who were 500 years later living under yet another tyrant but who could identify him as the clay feet when they did their sums properly and counted number which they were up to at the time? The empire they were living in and were afraid of had kings that were divided among themselves and didn’t hold together very well.

It said: All empires have a beginning and an end, and they will all pass. The particular empire we are living under at the moment is not even as strong as the ones that have been here before, and it will pass as they did. Oppression will pass, violence will pass, war and difficulty will pass. And somehow, in all that, there is a God who listens, who knows and who helps. A God worth knowing and worshipping who will stay true to us if we stay true to Him.

Conclusion:
So this is where we finish with Daniel and his friends for today:
The King is pleased as punch he is going to be the ruler of the greatest Kingdom ever, and decides to build a huge golden statue to show just how wonderfully mighty he is.
Daniel and his friends are held in high regard because of their help and all is well for a while.

However: Others don’t like it and get jealous and once more Daniel and his friends get into trouble…….

© Rev. Anneke Oppewal, 2006


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