Sunday, December 5, 2010

Old Testament Lesson #46 "A Kingdom, Which Shall Never Be Destroyed"

Daniel 2


Ask the class to be thinking about this question (post it on the board):  "What is one thing you really like about Daniel or one message from his book?"  (You will ask for their answers later in the lesson.)


"A God of Gods."  Chapter 2:  Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, had a troubling dream which he could not remember or which he would not tell (v. 1-4).  (See footnote a in verse 5:  It is possible the original meaning was that he did remember the dream, but was testing others' ability to divine it.  Harper-Collins Study Bible also suggests this possibility on p. 1305, as does Ellis T. Rasmussen,  An Introduction to the Old Testament and Its Teachings, 2:92, quoted in the Institute Manual, Section 28-9.)  He was deeply impressed, whichever the case may be, that the dream was significant and he needed to know the interpretation.  He called all his wise men and priests and asked for the interpretation.  They answered, quite reasonably, that they could not interpret the dream if they did not know what it was.  Nebuchadnezzar did not back down from his challenge, however.  He offered "gifts and rewards and great honour" to them who could state and interpret the dream (v. 6), and a gruesome death if they failed (v. 5, 12).

The king's guard went forth to slay these men, and on their way, were intercepted by Daniel (v. 14) who asked what was going on.  When he heard, he went straight to the king to ask for himself, and to offer to learn and give the interpretation.  Then he returned to his quarters and shared the news with his three friends, and begged them to pray for him, as all their lives depended upon it (v. 14-18), and also the lives of the other wise men or priests (v. 24).  "Then was the secret revealed unto Daniel in a night vision.  Then Daniel blessed the God of heaven" (v. 19).

The story is inconsistent in that Daniel has direct access to the king in verse 16, and in verse 25 the captain of the guard brings Daniel to the king and introduces him as "a man of the captives of Judah," as if the king did not know who he was. Verse 16 is "widely regarded [by scholars] as a late addition to harmonize with Chapter 1" (Harper-Collins Study Bible, p. 1306). 

Oh well.  No one's perfect, and neither were the writers and editors of the Old Testament.    The contradiction doesn't affect the important points of the story.

When Daniel related and interpreted the dream, Nebuchadnezzar learned the difference between the idols of Babylon and the God of Israel.  Whereas the Babylonian priests defended their inability to respond by saying that no one could give this interpretation unless they were helped by the gods, and those gods do not dwell near enough to people to aid them (v. 11), Daniel showed the God of Israel to be immediate and personal, even in a foreign nation such as Babylon (Richard D. Draper, "The Prophets of the Exile: Saviors of a People," Voices of Old Testament Prophets: The 26th Annual Sidney B. Sperry Symposium, p. 96).  The phrase "God of heaven" here used is a Persian title for the Jewish God (Harper-Collins, p. 1306).  Whereas the stars were considered to be some of the Babylonian dieties, The God of Israel was God even over them, by this definition. 

Daniel gave every bit of glory for the recall and interpretation of the dream to Jehovah (v. 20-30), thus introducing him to the king as a God of gods, who is invested in the doings of man, and who knows all, as evidenced by the fact that he reveals secrets (v. 19, 22, 28, 29, 30).  The dream itself showed that God could place and remove kings and define and direct empires.

The king's beginning testimony:  "Of a truth it is, that your God is a God of gods, and a Lord of kings, and a revealer of secrets" (v. 47).

A God who can deliver.  Chapter 3:  Here is the story of Daniel's three friends, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego surviving an attempted execution by furnace after they refused to worship the Babylonion idol.  Nebuchadnezzar was so impressed that he sent forth a decree that the Jews and their God be respected (v. 28-29).

The king's growing testimony:  "No other God...can deliver after this sort" (v. 29).

A God who is eternal and all-powerful.  Chapter 4:  The king had a second troubling and prophetic dream, which Daniel interpreted.  At this point, although the king had learned quite a bit about the God of Israel, he had not accepted him as his god, relevant to his life.  The interpretation of the dream was terrifying, and Daniel hesitated before giving it (v. 19).  But the king was ready to take it, no matter what, and it revealed that he would be removed from his position of power to a condition of madness for seven years.  What was the purpose?  The growth of his testimony.  He would be mad "till thou know that the most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever he will" (v. 25).  Daniel counseled the king, "Break off thy sins by righteousness [an interesting visualization for all of us--we don't just repent and stop sinning; we break our sins actively through righteous living] and thine iniquities by shewing mercy to the poor; [so that] it may be a lengthening of thy tranquility" (v. 27).  When the dream was realized, the seven years were spent, and the king was restored to himself, he sent out a proclamation to all of his dominion declaring his personal worship of the God of Israel.

The king's final, mature testimony:  "[He] liveth for ever, [his] dominion is an everlasting dominion...none can stay his hand...Now I Nebuchadnezzar praise and extol and honour the King of heaven, all whose works are truth, and his ways judgment; and those that walk in pride he is able to abase" (v. 34, 35, 37).

Whether King Nebuchadnezzar changed from believing in many gods (polytheism) to believing in many gods with one god ruling over them (henotheism) or to completely joining the Israelites in believing in only one supreme God (monotheism), is hard to tell from the writings, but it is clear that he had a powerful belief in Jehovah at the end of this progression of events (Draper, p. 97).


For the meaning of the dream and its fulfillment, go to Section 28-13 in the Institute Manual.


Now we return to our opening question:  "What is one thing you really like about Daniel, or one message from his book?"  (For this section, prepare ahead of time a large circle of posterboard.  Write on it in large letters "Total Christian."  Now turn the circle over and cut it into wedges like a pie.  Number the wedges discretely at the point, clockwise, so that you can reassemble them in the right order.  On each wedge write one of the six statements listed below in bold Itallic about Daniel.  I recommend that you actually cut eight wedges, however, leaving two of them blank to be filled in with class members' ideas. [Don't you hate having to guess what the teacher is thinking?]  As each class member shares an idea, post the wedge that correlates with his idea, or write his idea on a blank wedge.  Comments that you can add are included below.  As each wedge is added, secure it to the next one with transparent tape.)

Daniel was a patient member-missionary, 24/7.  Daniel was not afraid to share God's message with even the mighty King of Bablyon.  He continued this missionary work as the king gained a testimony of God in graduated steps over many years.  Almost all of the stories relating to Daniel's sharing of the gospel took place in relation to his work.  He never set aside his religion because it conflicted with his job.  Daniel was a religious diplomat, able to live companionably with people of other faiths while remaining completely true to his own beliefs.

How can we do this?  We can begin by taking our faith with us everywhere we go, every day of the week.  When co-workers or classmates ask us how our weekend was, we can share not only the fun activities of Saturday, but the spiritual events we enjoyed on Sunday.  We can make it comfortable for those around us to ask us questions about our faith, by making it known that we are Latter-day Saints or Mormons, by briefly bringing up points of doctrine we believe in as they relate to daily situations, and by being patient and not pushy.

Daniel was steadfast at all costs.  Nothing could stop Daniel from obeying the Lord.  He ate what he was commanded of the Lord to eat.  He prayed as he was commanded of the Lord to pray.  He told the king dream interpretations that could have cost him his head, as he was commanded of the Lord to tell.  (Read 10:12.) 

Daniel 1:1 takes place in 605 BC and Daniel 10:10 in 536 BC (Alec Motyer, The Story of the Old Testament, p. 143), a span of seventy years. 

How do we remain steadfast as Daniel did?  How do we avoid being burned out over seventy years?  Total consecration:  "The antidote to exhaustion is whole-heartedness." (David Steindle-Rast, Mt. Savior Benedictine Monastery, New York,

Daniel humbly acknowledged God's help.  He always expressed gratitude for God's hand in his life, and never took credit for wonderful works God did through him.  (Read Daniel 2:27-30).  He did not expect to succeed without mighty prayer.  (See Daniel 2:16-18.)

The great but humble composer J.S. Bach frequently signed his manuscripts with the phrases "Help me, Jesus," "In the name of Jesus," or "To God alone, the glory" (Patrick Kavanaugh, Spiritual Lives of the Great Composers, p. 20).  His reliance on God undoubtedly made his works great.

How can we do this?  We might keep a journal of the hand of the Lord in our lives as counseled by President Eyring.  We might note the tender mercies extended to us as counseled by Elder Bednar.  We might develop an attitude of gratefulness.  We might replace the word "lucky" in our conversations with "blessed."  We might offer to pray for friends who are suffering trials, even if they are not of our faith, or of any faith.

Daniel lived close to the Spirit.  He could find out what God wanted him to do in any situation that came up.  He lived an obedient life, and took good care to keep his body and his spirit, even at the cost of angering a king, in tune with God's Spirit (1:15-17).

Daniel was submissive to the Lord's will.  He made the best of the circumstances he found himself in.  He was not able to choose his career or his locale, or much about his life, but he accepted it.  People tried to undermine him, bad things happened, but Daniel did not expect perfection.  He took what he was given and carried on as faithfully as possible, a great example of "blooming where you're planted."

Shadrach, Meshach and Abedneggo are excellent examples of this as well.  The words "but if not" in Daniel 3:18 show that they understood that God's way might not be obvious to them, but they still accepted His will.

"You want to make God laugh?  Then tell him about your plans."  (John Chancellor)

"When I narrow my vision to search for an ideal that my mind has created, life seldom complies.  But when I broaden my vision to simply notice what life is offering, I find that I am surrounded by an abundance of care and support."  (Gregg Krech)

"Discontent cheats you out of the life you have" (David Steindl-Rast).  We tend to expect perfection in a manner that does not confrom with God's plans, and that expectation smothers gratitude.  One of the most grateful people I knew was a dear friend and visiting teaching companion named Nola Gay Webb who, at the time that she was enduring the slow and painful process of dying of her second cancer, shared the following story told by Janet P. Lee with the sisters we visited:

"When my daughter Stephanie was five years old, I took her to register for kindergarten. When we arrived, she was invited to go into a classroom to play 'games' with the teachers and other children. As a former elementary school teacher, I was certain the 'games' were a method of testing for placement purposes.
"A teacher was sitting just outside the room with a box of crayons and several sheets of blank paper, and I smiled confidently to myself from across the hall as Stephanie was asked to choose her favorite color and write her name. 'She could write all the names in our family,' I thought to myself. 'She is so well prepared, there isn't anything in that room she can't handle!' But Stephanie just stood there. The teacher repeated the instructions, and again my daughter stood still, staring blankly at the box of crayons with her knees locked and hands behind her back.
"In the sweet, patient voice that teachers use when they are beginning to feel slightly impatient, the teacher asked once more, 'Stephanie, choose your favorite color, dear, and write your name on this piece of paper.' I was about to come to my daughter's aid when the teacher kindly said, 'That's okay. We will help you learn to write your name when you come to school in the fall.' With all the restraint I could muster, I watched Stephanie move into the classroom with a teacher who believed my daughter did not know how to write her name.
"On the way home I tried to ask as nonchalantly as possible why she had not written her name. 'I couldn't,' she replied. 'The teacher said to choose my favorite color, and there wasn't a pink crayon in the box!'

"I reflect on this incident often as I watch my children grow and observe life in general. How many times are we, as Heavenly Father's children, immobilized because the choice we had in mind for ourselves just isn't available to us, at least not at the time we want it?"  (Janet P. Lee, "Knowing When to Persevere and When to Change Direction," BYU Devotional Address given January 14, 1992.  By the way, this is a wonderful talk, well worth reading.)

Daniel was Grateful.  (Read 2:17-23.)  We Latter-day Saints, living in these enlightened times, and many of us in well-developed, prosperous environments, must continually work to be grateful.  "We get, too quickly, used to things."  We are not surprised after a while by our blessings.  When was the last time you were surprised that the light turned on when you flicked the switch?  Yet, if it doesn't come on, your attention is rivited to that deficit.  A friend of mine, on a humanitarian trip to teach doctors in Mongolia to operate on ears and throats, was astonished at the patience of the medical staff there as the electricity would go off for long periods of time in the middle of surgical procedures.  They would just keep the patient comfortable, visit among themselves, and calmly wait for the return of power.

"We get, too quickly, used to things.  Once we take it for granted, it no longer brings us joy.  Instead, we think, What's next?" (David Steindl-Rast)

(Set a teacup inside a glass serving bowl with a capacity of about a half gallon or two liters.  Pour a quart or liter of water from a large measuring cup into the teacup and notice how the cup overflows.)  The cup is the expectation.  The water is the blessings.  The expectation was more than fulfilled, therefore we easily notice the overflow and this gratitude brings us joy!  "Our cup runneth over!"  (Pour the water back into the measuring cup.  Now remove the teacup from the serving bowl.  Pour the water into the serving bowl, and it is not filled.)  If we increase the size of the container (our expectations) we decrease the amount overflowing (the joy).  The amount of joy we experience as a result of our blessings is directly related to our expectation.  If last year's wants become this year's needs, the container of expectation becomes large; it is human nature.  That is why when the Lord prospers a people, they often become ungrateful, forget to acknowledge His hand, and slip away from their faith.

We need to take the effort to slow ourselves down enough to be grateful.  Perhaps keeping a gratitude journal, or sometimes praying or fasting in gratitude only, would help us to teach ourselves to be surprised and to remain in a sense of wonderment about our blessings.


(Flip the taped-together circle over to show the words "Total Christian.")

Daniel was the total Christian.  He survived trials, fears, captivity, displacement, almost certain death, prosperity, jealous vendettas, adulation, imprisonment, and great power, all the while keeping the faith.  In every circumstance he was true.  How did he do that?  Well, one slice of the picture cannot tell it alone.  He was steadfast because he was also grateful.  He was grateful because he was humble.  Because he was humble, he was also diplomatic.  Because he was faithful, he could submit himself to the Lord's will.  He was in tune with the Spirit because he recognized the Lord's hand in everything.  Everything in Daniel's life linked together to form a total disciple.

As latter-day children of Israel living in the Promised Land (whichever land that may be, as all parts of the world now have temples), we must follow Daniel's example.  We are the individual snowflakes in the avalanche of the Lord's kingdom.  The stone rolls faster down the hill as each person becomes closer to total consecration in his faith and commitment.

(If there is classtime left, you may wish to show the last five minutes of the Church video, "An Ensign to the Nations.")

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