There is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries. (2:28)
The first part of the book of Daniel has some of the best-known stories of the Old Testament. Apart from their exciting content, they’re also written in a way that lends itself to storytelling, so it’s no wonder they’ve shaped our memory down the ages.
The picture of God that comes across here is a more complex one than some of the other prophets. Daniel’s story is one of human faithfulness met by the faithfulness of the LORD of all nations, who is interested in their welfare and who has revealed himself above all through the people of Israel and his work through them.
The story is set in the time of exile in Babylon (though most scholars agree that it’s written in its current form many years later) and shows God at work for and through his scattered people. It’s through their faithfulness to God’s ways that Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego find health, insight and the gifts of administration that bring them to high office, working for a pagan king and overseeing the business of a pagan, imperial nation – and also earning the jealousy of their scheming rivals. Daniel and his friends, meanwhile, show no malice or triumphalism. When Daniel is called to reveal and interpret the king’s dream, his first words are to ask that the king spare his failed advisers, seers and magicians. Daniel speaks clearly of how the true God alone can see and give insight into mysteries.
He states the supremacy of God only positively – not deriding or crowing over the wisdom and religion of the Babylonians, but celebrating the greater truth of the LORD. It’s no bad guide for us, living as God’s people in a largely secular culture, to spend more time speaking of the glory of God than we do denouncing the faults of everything else!
The king’s dream itself shows God’s sovereign plan for history, in which Babylon has a temporary part. Human power does not last – even that of superpowers. The king accepts this wisdom, and promotes the one who brought it.
He remains a pagan king, though – and the enemies of Daniel’s friends use this to try to destroy them. They play on the king’s vanity, and know that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, faithful servants of the king though they are, serve also a higher King, and will bow down to no statue. God answers their faithfulness, protecting them from the flames and sending a mysterious figure (an angel – or the Son of God?) to stand with them in the fire.
But one thing that strikes me powerfully before that moment is their response to the king, as he asks them whether their God will save them.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered the king, ‘O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to present a defence to you in this matter. If our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire and out of your hand, O king, let him deliver us. But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up.’ (3:16-18)
They trust God to save them. But they will still trust him even if he doesn’t. That is faith.