9 April 2013Daniel 1:1-21
“In the third year of the reign of King Jehoiakim of Judah, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. The Lord let King Jehoiakim of Judah fall into his power.” (vv. 1-2)
Although the events of the book of Daniel are set in the sixth century before Christ (the siege of Jerusalem ended on 2 Adar (16 March) 597BC) the book itself was written in the second century before Christ. (In the same way that we would spot a 'seventeenth-century' book written in twenty first-century English as being newer than it claimed to be).
By the second century before Christ, Jerusalem had fallen to Alexander the Great, whose successor Antiochus IV Epiphanes (175BC-164BC) was on the throne. As Nebuchadnezzar of Shinar/Babylon had done so before him (verse 2), Antiochus pillaged the temple (following the revolt led by Jason - 2 Maccabees 5:11-20). He imposed the worship of Greek gods, setting up a statue of Zeus in the temple. However, his persecution of the Jews following the revolt was nothing short of appalling. (The full gruesome story of what happened to a family who refused to eat pork may be read in 2 Maccabees 7 - but this is not a passage of Scripture for the faint-hearted).
How could the Jews who were suffering appalling torture for their desire to remain faithful to God and to keep to the practices of the law be encouraged not to simply give in to Antiochus in order to stay alive? The book of Daniel was written for this purpose - by reminding the readers of an earlier time of great persecution which was endured by those who had faith.
Note also that the question as to whether God has abandoned God's chosen people to their terrible fate is answered in verse 2 - it is not that a stronger god has defeated the God of Judah, but that the God of Judah has permitted a foreign king to prevail for a short period of time. (The writer of 2 Maccabees argues that it was for God to discipline God's people before they grew worse in their sin - 2 Maccabees 6:12-17).
So in today's passage we see the way that Daniel and his friends avoid eating meat which has been sacrificed to idols - by practising vegetarianism and avoiding all meat.
- Christians of a century ago held to very strict rules about how they kept Sundays as special. How far does a relaxation of attitudes indicate a watering-down of faithfulness to God?
- Do you agree that God allows disasters to happen to people in order to discipline them? Why?