Thursday, October 20, 2005

The power of biblical literature: Daniel 1

I've finished Ezekiel in my daily reading now and began Daniel today, which begins:

1:1 In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. 2 And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with some of the vessels of the house of God. And he brought them to the land of Shinar, to the house of his god, and placed the vessels in the treasury of his god. 3 Then the king commanded Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility, 4 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, and to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans. 5 The king assigned them a daily portion of the food that the king ate, and of the wine that he drank. They were to be educated for three years, and at the end of that time they were to stand before the king. 6 Among these were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah of the tribe of Judah. 7 And the chief of the eunuchs gave them names: Daniel he called Belteshazzar, Hananiah he called Shadrach, Mishael he called Meshach, and Azariah he called Abednego.

8 But Daniel....

Sometimes you remember why the bible is not writen like a textbook. In the first 8 verses of Daniel the (seeming) humiliation and powerlessness of the people and their God comes across so strongly, even though there is the hint of what is later developed in v.2 ('the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand'). But in vv1-7 humiliation is piled upon humiliation:

  • Jerusalam is beseiged.
  • The vessels of God are taken and placed into a the conquering god's treasury. Seemingly Yahweh like his people has been subjugated by Babylon and it's god.
  • The best pickings of Israel's people are taken as plunder.
  • This cream of Israel, relys on food handouts, unable to provide for himself. There was not even granted the responsibility to manage - the handouts were 'daily'.
  • They are then renamed, clearly demonstrating their ownership.
  • Consider as well the meaning of their new names:
    • Daniel -> Belteshazzer = 'protect his life' or maybe derived from the Babylonian deity Bel (4:8).
    • Azariah -> Abednego = 'servant of Nabu' (Nebuchadnezzar’s personal god).
    • Mishael ('Who is what God is') -> Meshach = 'Who is that which Aku [Summerian lunar deity] is'.
    • Hananiah -> Shadrach = 'command of Aku'.

That 'but' in v.8 seemed so powerful to me today. What I had read was not the whole picture, and was not permenant, God was still king. But God's ways are strange to the world and in the midst of this giant game of real-world Risk, the story chosen to tell following this humiliation is of a insignificant man trying to be faithful to his God in the middle of it all.

I love how God chooses to comunicate, I love the truth he communicates, and I love to think about I fit into what he has communicated - but not enough.

PS. that was my hundredth post!


At 7:15 am, Blogger thebluefish said...

Ooo, I'm just coming to the end of Ezekiel.


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