Daniel - a political hero

Daniel shows us it is possible to retain integrity within politics, but also there are 'times to defy and times to comply'

King Nebuchadnezzar seems almost a caricature of the kings found in literature, who would have people slain at the drop of a hat. Compared to our own political institutions, his was seriously lacking in any virtue (or sense).

Yet, plucked from his own home in Judea and thrown into the corridors of elite Babylonian life, Daniel does not shut himself off and complain about the tyrant on the throne, but instead uses his gifts to serve the King and the people of his empire. 

The result is that, unique to all of history, Daniel ran two consecutive empires: the Babylonian and Persian. The question we’re left asking is what kept Daniel stable with all that was going on?

Daniel kept his identity

One of the first things that we see happen to Daniel is that he is given a new name: Belshazzar. This is an act of assimilation, on behalf of the King, to make Daniel like the Babylonians. Daniel, which means ‘God is my judge’, is symbolically taken from him as Babylon attempts to command his unwavering devotion.

However, despite losing his name, Daniel keeps firmly rooted in his devotion to God. While accepting certain aspects of his assimilation he drew the line when it came into conflict with his faith. We see this early on when he refuses the King’s food based on his convictions from scripture.

There is also a larger narrative at play. Babylon is struggling to make a name for itself. Its driving philosophy was its own significance. In contrast to this we see Daniel content with his identity in God. The question this leaves us with, is which city do we live for and where do we find our identity?  

Daniel worshipped God

Daniel is a story of competing world views coming together in the public square. Many commentators compare Babylon to the world we find ourselves in today, where Christianity is not the dominant worldview or the accepted mode by which to order public life.

The competition we see played out in Daniel is between the worshipping of the state (or the King) and the worshipping of God. In Daniel 6 this comes to a head when a law is introduced that discriminates against faith. At this point of the story, the law of the land has superseded the will of the King, and so we find Daniel disobeying the law by refusing to worship the state above God and being thrown into the lion’s den against the King’s wishes.

While on this occasion Daniel is protected, there are many other times where Daniel suffers acutely, not least when he is taken from his family and loved ones and repatriated in a foreign land.

We consistently see, however, Daniel siding with God even when everything is stacked on the other side. In so doing Daniel recognises God as being above all things and in control. This is confirmed by his dream about the six beasts which are destroyed one by one, representing different empires, with God’s kingdom remaining everlasting.

Daniel sought the welfare of the city

In Daniel 9:2 we see Daniel referencing the book of Jeremiah and the prophecy about Jerusalem. The prophecy is found in Jeremiah 29:8-10 and refers to the seventy years the Jews would be in exile in Babylon.

Interestingly, the verse before this is the instruction to Jews to “seek the welfare of the city, where I have sent you into exile”. Although not directly mentioned in Daniel, we can assume he would have been aware of this verse and we can certainly see it playing out in his life. Despite being torn from his homeland, he engages positively in his new city. He remains distinctive yet fully present, seeking the welfare of others through his position of immense authority.

Likewise, Christians today who sometimes find themselves strangers in the modern world, should nevertheless engage meaningfully and positively to serve others and seek the welfare of all people.

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