From all the miraculous stories in the Bible there are but few that surpass those found in the book of Daniel. From the resolution to eat only vegetables to Daniel’s redemption in the lion’s den the first six chapters prove that God is indeed the living God. There are few other places in Scripture where God breaks through into this world with such frequency and intensity. No wonder why the book has been the key subject of many a Sunday school flannelgraph. But, why did God break through into the world in Daniel’s day like he did? What does the book of Daniel inform us about our God and about how we are to live in this world some 1400 years later? Frankly, why does the church need Daniel today?
First, I think God’s intervention into the world in Daniel’s day proves that God is about keeping his promises to his people. Even as Israel had rejected Yahweh, Yahweh had not rejected his people Israel. God was and always will be about his people. But, not because his people are worthy, as the history of Israel displays, but because God is about keeping his promise to preserve his people. And, God had promised to preserve his people in both the Abrahamic and Davidic covenants. You simply cannot (nor should you) read the book of Daniel without the Abrahamic and Davidic promises ringing in your ears. Furthermore, God is found breaking into this world in Daniel’s day more than at other times precisely because Israel had been displaced. God is after his goodness by demonstrating that he can keep his promise in the preservation of his people. At a time in history when God seems not to be good, he is found precisely to be good. I believe that the safekeeping of God’s people is so important to the book of Daniel that it must be our starting place as we approach the interpretation of the book. Dare I say that it is more important to the interpretation of the book than the theme of God’s sovereignty. Yes, I believe that the sovereignty of God is an important theme of the book of Daniel. However, the major theme of the book is the sovereignty of God as displayed in the preservation of his people for the purpose of keeping his promises to them.
Second, faithfulness to God is a necessary part of convincing the world that God is about keeping his promises. Yes, there is a certain tension between this point and my first point. Granted, as much as we might waive the banner of God’s sovereignty throughout our interpretation of the book, the faithfulness of God’s people cannot be overlooked. From Daniel’s famous “resolve” in chapter 1, to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s “but if not” statement, and to Daniel’s blamelessness in chapter six, the character of God’s people simply cannot be overlooked. It is often the case that this point becomes the focus of a teaching through the book. We are familiar with the “Dare to be Daniel” sermons. I don’t want to say that this type of application is altogether wrong, however it must be held up together with the first point. God is about preserving his people and God’s people need to be about proving he will preserve his people.
So, why does the church need the book of Daniel?
The church needs the book of Daniel because (1) the church needs to be reminded that God is about the preservation of his people and (2) the church is called to live in this world in such a way that puts that preservation on display.
Remember, the church is as much God’s people as Israel was in Daniel’s day. God had given Nebuchadnezzar a victory over Israel, but God had not given him the ultimate victory. God gave Daniel and his friends the opportunity to put the care of his people on display in a foreign land. How does the church live to put the conservation of God’s people on display? It does so through its resolution to be obedient to God’s Word and its refusal to become conformed to this world. And, the church is successful no matter what the outcome is this side of heaven. That point is made throughout the first six chapters of the book of Daniel, but is made most pointedly in Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego’s refusal to bow to Nebuchadnezzar’s image no matter the outcome. In the end, if we are to be put to death we only prove God to be greater because Satan’s greatest power will be found innocuous at the resurrection.
When I think about the great number of challenges we face in our world, I cannot help but think of the God of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. The God who’s sovereign work through these four young men proves that he is a God who cares about preserving his people as much as he care about the character of his people. As we wrestle with what it means to live in a world with a growing disdain for its Creator, we must remember that its Creator has no disdain for his people. We must understand as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego did: only physical death can be brought against us. The only thing that Nebuchadnezzar, Belshazzar, or Darius could have done to Daniel and his friends was to kill them. These young men thought about their God in this way. They understood the scope of his sovereignty and his commitment to preserve his people. They understood that whether or not they had breath, God had a plan for them. And, so it is for us. For, “he is a living God, enduring forever; his kingdom shall never be destroyed, and his dominion shall be to the end” (Dan 6:26).