The Bible is made up of many different kinds of literature. There are poetic passages, didactic (teaching) passages and historical narrative passages, among others. Recently I began reading the book of Daniel, so far having completed the first six chapters – all of which are in the historical narrative category. As I walked through these chapters I asked myself how I could best learn from the events recorded there. Should I use Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego as examples, seeking to emulate their behavior? Should I use Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar as counter examples, seeking to avoid their mistakes? While there is some value in doing both of those things, I suggest that a better way to apply such narratives is to look for truths about God in them.
What are some truths about God we can find in the first six chapters of the Book of Daniel?
• God is in control of historical events. Several times in these chapters we’re reminded of this. It is God who delivered King Jehoiakim into the hands of the Babylonians (1:2) and God who caused the court officials in Babylon to look favorably upon Daniel and his friends (1:9). It is also God who removes Nebuchadnezzar from his throne temporarily and Belshazzar from his permanently, giving the kingdom to the Medes and Persians. When I’m tempted to despair due to the condition of our nation or because of injustice in society, I should remember that God is in control and will work in and through those situations to bring glory to Himself and to advance his kingdom.
• God will not share His glory with another. Our God is not just one god among many, He is the one true God. Nebuchadnezzar, despite having been shown this multiple times continued to view himself as in control of events and worthy of praise and glory (4:30). God’s response was to immediately humble Nebuchadnezzar by striking him with madness and taking away his kingdom for a time. We see a similar event in the life of King Herod in the New Testament that ended with Herod’s death (Acts 12:19-25). God takes His glory seriously and so should I as His follower.
• God’s sovereignty does not negate man’s responsibility. This tension is found throughout scripture. Despite it being God’s will to give the kingdom of Babylon to the Medes and Persians, King Belshazzar was still held accountable for his failure to acknowledge the One True God (5:6). I can never use the truth that God is sovereign over all things to excuse my sin.
Praying for the believers at Ephesus, the Apostle Paul says “I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better.” (Ephesians 1:17). By approaching historical narratives as a way to know God better rather than primarily as morality tales where I seek to emulate the main characters, I keep God and His character the main thing, realizing my own character is more effectively changed through knowing God better than by trying harder to be more like a Daniel.