|Fresco of Daniel in the Lion's Den by Agostino Scilla|
Photo by Giovanni Dall'Orto
Daniel begins in the first wave of captive-removal from Israel. There are several of these, which I didn't realize. But if my memory and understanding are correct, while Jeremiah was still preaching impending doom to Judah, Daniel and Ezekiel had already been in Babylon for many years. Daniel was involved, of course, in court life. Ezekiel was a priest--one who had been taken so very far away from the temple at which he should have been serving.
So while Daniel and his friends are earning the respect of Nebuchadnezzar, Ezekiel is trying to help his fellow exiles understand this new kind of Judaism they will have to learn, to survive as children of the Most High in a foreign land. And here's the part I love.
At one point in the book of Ezekiel, he uses a phrase I never noticed before: "wiser than Daniel." He's speaking against the king of Tyre here, and God is observing how puffed up said king has become. The tone is without question sarcastic as the prophet proclaims, "Oh, you're wiser than Daniel! You understand everything! No secrets can be kept from you, nosiree, you know so much that you've gained all the riches of the world. You think you're so big-time, Mr. Big Shot King..."
Oh, how I love this. That Daniel's wisdom was so well-known, so wide-spread that he had become a standard. Saying "wiser than Daniel" is like someone today saying, "He's richer than Bill Gates" or "faster than a super-computer." Daniel was so wise that even a foreign king would know of him. And would know that he was being mocked--because no one was wiser than Daniel.
In other parts of Ezekiel, he includes Daniel in the list of God's most righteous followers. When speaking of coming doom, he says, "Even if Noah, Daniel, and Job were in that city, God wouldn't spare the city for their sakes, He would only save them." Another time he reiterates the same phrase: Noah, Daniel, and Job. The most faithful men in Jewish history. The ones who did not doubt.
I can't quite explain why this is so much fun to me, but it really is. I love getting context for one story from another. I love when the firsthand account we get from one source is solidified by someone totally different. Maybe it's the history-lover in me, who knows. But this made my already-great respect for Daniel grow even more. Here was a guy taken from his land and then separated from the other captives. He was pulled from among the Jewish exiles and put in the king's palace. He thrived--not as someone who adjusted to his circumstances and took on the ways of his captors, but as someone who outdid all the Babylonian in their own arts by remaining true to his God.
And God made him wiser than any other man on earth at the time. God made his fame go out among the nations. Yet still Daniel led a humble, selfless life. He says to kings, "Keep your riches for yourself, but I will give you the answers you seek." He does not want power. He does not want glory. He wants only the Lord.
And that's why he was hailed as the wisest. That's why we still remember him today. And though we can't all aspire to such greatness that everyone the world over will know our names, we can still emulate his standard. We can keep out eyes on the Lord and seek to find the way to flourish in His truth. We can be in the world, surrounded by those who do not understand us, and excel because of the understanding He gives us. And we can always know, always trust that He who got us this far will see us through.
And if He doesn't, as Daniel's three friends proclaim in the face of the fiery furnace, then we'll praise Him anyway. Because it's better to die glorifying Him than to live without Him.
I know very well I'll never be wiser than Daniel. But I'd sure like to be his student.