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Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Daniel in the political den

So ... starting with Daniel ...
Have you ever wondered how old he was when he was taken prisoner. Some modern commenters think he must have been around 5 or 6 - a child being raised among foreigners to be a ruler and spread the good culture.

(28) Daniel

Read Daniel 1:1-5 It was normal for the Babylonians to take people as well as property when they conquered a land. The young captives (think elementary schoolkids) would be brought up as Babylonians and trained to become governors back home as they grew older, thus conquering hearts and minds.

1.       In general, do you think this method of conquest would work?

2.       What if you add the religious element, training the young people to believe Babylonian gods were greater?

3.       Are there analogies in the modern world, or in relatively recent history? How do we learn from history, or fail to?

The first story in Daniel is a familiar tale concerning food. It happens soon after Daniel arrives in Babylon. Remember, Daniel really is a little kid at this time.

1.       Read Daniel 1:6-7. It was normal to rename the students too. But what might it feel like to have someone change your name? What about praise songs like “I will change your name”?

2.       Why might these names have been chosen?

a.       Daniel means “God is my judge.” Belteshazzar means “Bel protects his life.”
b.      Hananiah means “God is gracious.” Shadrach means “Command of the moon god.”
c.       Mishael means “Who is like God?” Meshach means “Who is like the moon god?”
d.      Azariah means “God has helped.” Abednego means “servant of Nego.”

3.       Daniel now lives in a state that is separate from his church. How is this like our country? How is it unlike?

4.       Read Daniel 1:8 Why don’t Daniel and co complain about the names?

5.       Why does Daniel complain about the food? Is it just because he’s a five-year-old?
6.       How might we decide what’s worth complaining about?

7.        Read Daniel 1:9-17  Is Daniel gracious?

a.       Shouldn’t Daniel try to convert the eunuch? When should we try to convert, and when should we just live alongside someone?

b.      Should we all become vegetarians? How do we decide how to interpret God’s laws?

c.       Is God gracious to Daniel?

8.       Read Daniel 1:18-21 How does Daniel model living in an anti-Jewish culture?

a.      How might his actions be relevant to the modern world?

b.      How might they be relevant to Christian politicians?

Cyrus takes the throne of Persia in 559BC, but the first year he comes to power (here in Babylonia) probably means 539BC when he conquered Babylon. If Daniel was taken captive around 605BC, that means he survives 70 years in captivity. Assuming he was around 5 (child rather than young adult) when he was taken, he lives to be around 75—at which point he’s still writing! How does that make us feel about aging?

The second story in Daniel should be a familiar one too. It happens in the second year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign, so how old do you think Daniel is?

1.       Read Daniel 2:1-13 Why would the king imagine his advisors could tell him his dream? Is he testing his gods?

2.       Which king did ask this in the past? And why might the king be willing to kill his advisers?

3.       Read Daniel 2:14-18 Why might Daniel imagine God will tell him the king’s dream? Is he testing God?

a.       Might God’s faithfulness over the food have influenced Daniel?

b.      What influences us to make us believe God will help us?

c.       We’re told to pray in faith. Presumably Daniel prayed in faith too. How “sure” do you think he was?

d.      Read Daniel 2:19-23 Is Daniel grateful, awed, wise… or all of the above?

e.       How do we respond when God answers prayer? What might make it hard for us to respond this way?

4.       Read Daniel 2:24-30 What does Daniel emphasize? What do we emphasize when God answers prayer?

a.       Does Daniel say the king is wrong, or his advisors’ gods are wrong? Why or why not?

b.      Does Daniel build himself up? Why or why not?

c.       What can we learn from how Daniel conducts himself, especially how he saves the other wise men?

5.       Read Daniel 2:31-35 This is the dream. What do you know about gold, silver, bronze, iron and clay? Would you expect to interpret the dream forwards or backwards (Gold built on top of iron, or iron defeating gold)? Let’s look verse by verse at what Daniel says, trying to see through ancient eyes rather than ours.

a.       Read Daniel 2:36-38 What countries today might imagine themselves this way?

b.      Read Daniel 2:39 The Medes followed the Babylonians. The Persians followed the Medes. By the time Alexander the Great came close to Jerusalem, who would he have identified with in this vision. Why might he have decided to skip invading?

c.       Read Daniel 2:40-42 The Seleucids (Syria) and the Ptolemaics (Greece) came next and were combined by marriage. How might they have viewed the image of combined strength?

d.      Read Daniel 2:43-45 What might the Maccabees have imagined this meant? What might the Jews of Jesus’ time have imagined? And what do we think it means?

e.      Modern Christian interpretations read Medo-Persian for the silver shoulders (two shoulders—two empires combined), Greece for the brass chest and thighs, and a divided Roman empires for the feet. How does verse 45 tie all interpretations together? What is the important message to us?

6.       Read Daniel 2:46-49 Does Nebuchadnezzar’s response make any sense?

a.       Does remembering what happened to Nineveh help it make sense?

b.      What about Daniel’s response?

c.       Do you know who built the hanging gardens of Babylon? And when?

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