By Tyson Thorne

January 2, 2014

Hero-Daniel large

Heroes are an important part of a child’s life — and of adults’ too, truth be known. Heroes are those we look up to, those with some level of personal greatness – not only someone who rushes into a burning building to rescue a toddler trapped on the top floor. Heroes can be sports figures, entertainers, and even Christians. They are men and women who uphold a higher standard than others before them have achieved.

A “hero” can be defined as an ordinary person doing extraordinary things. The hero formula is easy to break down. They live ordinary lives until faced with an injustice or other challenge, at which time they make a decision to do what is right. Heroes are hard to find in our world today. Once upon a time, our nation’s leaders were heroes. George Washington and Abe Lincoln are excellent examples. Today, politicians cannot be shamed or humiliated for, as author P.J. O’Rourke has observed, “What used to be called shame and humiliation is now called publicity…. If you say a modern celebrity is an adulterer, a pervert and a drug addict, all it means is you’ve read his autobiography.”

By our definition of “hero,” ordinary people doing extraordinary things”, I believe the prophet Daniel is a hero.

When we are first introduced to Daniel in chapter one of the book that bears his name, we find a young man thrust into extraordinary circumstances. Foreign invaders have overrun his nation and he and his three friends, along with thousands of others, have been taken captive. Appropriated into the king’s courts, he and his friends find favor with the enemy and are to be trained in the ways of Babylon. Daniel is faced with a choice: fit in with the Babylonians and live according to their standards, or live up to his calling as a Jew. In verse eight of chapter one we see the first decision Daniel makes: “He resolved not to defile himself…” Literally, the rendering is “laid upon his heart”; Daniel laid upon his heart, he resolved, not to defile himself. And this was his first step toward becoming a hero.

At issue here was the following of the Mosaic Law. Babylonian food would include several animals God forbade Hebrews to eat, and both the food and wine would have been dedicated to idols before being served, as was the Babylonian custom. This decision, on his part and on the part of his three friends, is what initially separated these four men from the rest of the captives who apparently didn’t have any problem with eating the food. His decision could have put him at odds with his captors, and with the rest of the captives. Though the stakes were high the decision appears to be made easily, such was their character and relationship with God.

The manner in which Daniel handles this situation is also noteworthy as it reflects his good judgment and common sense. He does not “rebel” from his captors’ authority. Instead, he courteously requests that he have a different diet than the others. While the attendant has the authority to make the decision, the Bible is very clear about who approved this request. In verse nine we see that God favors the request and causes the official to do likewise. This first episode in the book of Daniel reveals his high regard for God’s Word and his resolution to live up to its standards instead of cultural standards.

This respect for the Word and for others is also shown in chapter two. The king requests the impossible from his “wise” men: that they not only interpret a dream he had, but that they first tell the king his dream before interpreting it. When none can comply, the king orders them all to be executed, including wise-men-in-training Daniel and his three friends. Again, instead of rebellion or anger, Daniel shows tact. He asks the commander of the king’s guard to explain the situation, and then takes on the responsibility of doing the impossible – for he knows that with God all things are possible.

So we see in chapters one and two Daniel’s allegiance to Scripture and respect for his fellow man. We see that he was wise in his dealings with his captors, and was blessed for his decision to obey Scripture and not defile himself. Yet a few chapters later we will see his wisdom put to the test once more.

Daniel’s enemies, presumably other Babylonians though at this time they may have included a few others from the Israeli captives, conspired to have Daniel removed. They thought first to discredit him, but could find no fault in how he conducted the affairs of state. They then discovered Daniel’s kryptonite: His strict obedience to God’s law. Whenever the king’s law conflicted with God’s law, Daniel would always choose to follow God’s law. Hence, all they had to do was have the king sign a law that prohibited Daniel from practicing his faith and they would have a case against him.

And so they did, by having the king sign a law that for the next month no one could pray to any god. The entire kingdom could only pray to the king; violators would be put to death for dishonoring the king. What did Daniel do when he learned of the new law? He did exactly as he had always done: he went home and prayed in front of an open window in a manner that could not have been mistaken for prayer to any other deity but YHWH. Was this the wisest decision? What else could Daniel have done?

1. Daniel could have obeyed the law. After all, it was for only thirty days. But to do so would have compromised his relationship with God. His time in prayer was of equal value to his obedience to Scripture. In fact, the two go hand-in-hand, as his prayer ritual was in obedience to 1 Kings 8.29-.30 and .46-.49.

2. Daniel could have prayed silently, or in private, and thereby given the illusion of adherence to the law. Had he done so, his testimony would have suffered. People would have accused him of obeying man rather than God. Even if the accusation were false, he would have established he was more afraid of the king than of God. Obedience to the law, even perceived obedience, would have meant that the law was greater than Scripture.

3. Daniel could have challenged the law openly before the king. This would have had no effect, as the king’s signature had made it law, and in the Medo-Persian tradition, law was higher than royalty (that is, even the king was not above the law). This is known from history but is also evidenced here. The king did not want to send Daniel to the lions, and made every effort to save him until the time of his “execution.” If there were a loophole, King Darius would have found it.

Therefore, Daniel really had no choice but to follow through in his regular discipline, even though it meant a death sentence. What those conspirators meant for evil, God intended for good. In the end, Daniel was saved, evil was punished and God was glorified throughout Medo-Persia. Sounds like his decision was wise after all.

Without doubt, Daniel was an ordinary man, who did extraordinary things. He lived through the end of the Babylonian Empire and saw two other empires rise up besides. In all, he was God’s chosen instrument to carry his plan to the reigning world power. All because he resolved to obey God. All because he purposed in his heart to let Scripture be his guide. Can we say the same of ourselves?

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