By Chuck Griffin
If you follow the daily lectionary readings, you’re about to hit a string of stories from the Book of Daniel. I want to encourage you to take time to read that wonderful Old Testament book from start to finish, with a simple big-picture message in mind.
Let me remind you of three stories from the first six chapters of Daniel. They make a very straightforward point about God. I also invite you to spend more time studying the other stories, which are mostly about Daniel’s interpretation of various kings’ dreams. And please don’t ignore the last six chapters, made up of unusual writings called “apocalyptic” literature.
First, there’s the story I call “The God Diet.” Daniel and three other Jewish captives are taken to the Babylonian court to be trained in the literature and language of the empire that has conquered the Holy Land.
While there, they are expected to eat the king’s food. It is rich and fattening, but for Jews it also is unclean, forbidden by God.
Daniel and his friends, known in Babylon as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, decline to eat the food, asking instead for vegetables and water. This worries the palace official in charge, who knows he will be blamed if the young men waste away.
Instead, after 10 days, they look “better and fatter” than the people eating the king’s food, and they find themselves stationed in the king’s court.
Some people hold this story up as an example of the power of a vegetarian lifestyle, but that interpretation misses the real point: Be faithful to God despite what the world says, and God will take care of you.
The second story has a similar message. The king builds a great statue made of gold and orders everyone to worship it. Again, because of their faith, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refuse to bow down.
The king orders them thrown into a fiery furnace, one so hot that the men charged with tossing Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego through the furnace door die from the heat.
When the king looks in, he sees not three but four figures in the furnace, one having “the appearance of a god.” He calls the three out and finds they’ve not lost so much as an eyebrow.
God took care of them.
The third story shows that even political intrigue cannot overcome God’s love for a faithful follower. Daniel, a top adviser to the king, is so good at his job that the other advisers are jealous.
Knowing Daniel’s methodical religious life, the other advisers get a law passed that no one may pray to anyone except the king for 30 days. Daniel, of course, goes right on praying three times a day to God and is eventually caught. The punishment is to be tossed into a den of lions.
The next morning, the king finds Daniel unscratched. The king then tosses the conspirators and their families in. The lions decide to break their fast.
Again, the message is simple. Be faithful to God. God will take care of you.
Lord, we are so grateful for the way you watch over us. Even in sickness and death we know we have nothing to fear, for you will be with us through this life and into the next, thanks be to Jesus Christ. Amen.