27 November 2017Daniel 1:1-6, 8-20
“The Lord has done great things for us, and we rejoiced.” (Psalm 126:3)
Psalm: Psalm 126
The book of Daniel was written in the second century before Christ to encourage people living under an alien and oppressive rule by recalling stories about heroes from the past - much as the book of Daniel has been used ever since.
Chapter 1 introduces us to the heroic characters who feature in the chapters that follow. They are among the defeated Jews who have been deported from Israel into exile in Babylon. Their quality is emphasised: they are selected for training for court service. Daniel's capacity to interpret dreams is especially noticed, preparing us for his role in later chapters.
It was normal for victorious powers to carry off the images of a defeated nation's gods and place them in their own temples, demonstrating the subjection of those gods to the gods of the conqueror. In Israel's case there is no image of God, but the sacred vessels from the Jerusalem temple serve the same purpose.
In addition, the captives are given Babylonian names. The idea behind this is that they are to be assimilated into the new culture, with their old identities obliterated. In spite of this, the captives are superior, physically and mentally, to their captors.
We are not told why Daniel refuses meat and wine. Neither were forbidden to Jews. Perhaps it is assumed they had previously been used in pagan sacrifice and were thereby defiled. Eating food offered to a god implied communion with that god.
Psalm 126 assumes a similar situation of a people under alien oppression. It rejoices for past deliverance and prays to be delivered again.
- Think of peoples today living in exile or under foreign rule. What might this passage and the psalm say to them?
- How far should we conform to the customs and expectations of society around us, and how far should we aim to be different? Why?