Sunday, February 16, 2014

Integrity Trumps Defilement


Generally speaking, the Book of Daniel is about defilement and its remedy, integrity. For example, the title character does not want to defile himself by eating foods forbidden in the law so he figures out a way to save his coterie from having to do so. They get vegetables and water only and consequently look better than their colleagues who are pigging out on the king’s fare. Integrity prevailed and the defilement turned into advancement—Daniel interpreted the king’s prophetic dream and was placed over a third of the kingdom.

Similarly, Daniel’s three fellow captives, whom he himself had promoted to high position, did not want to defile themselves by bowing to foreign gods, and were consequently sentenced to the worst punishment the king could dish out—the fiery furnace. With characteristic integrity, the boys stood firm against the kings edict and were thrown into the furnace heated seven times hotter than usual. As the old king was watching the show, of course, he noticed a fourth man in the fire with the unscathed Hebrews that looked to him like the Son of God. This theophany blew old Nebuchadnezzar away, not to mention the fact that when Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego came out of the fire they did not even smell like smoke. Integrity prevailed and the intended defilement became a strong witness for the God of the Hebrews.

Daniel’s reputation for integrity was so strong that he was called upon in his old age to interpret the handwriting on the wall for Nebuchadnezzar’s offspring. Belshazzar was mocking God by drinking from the cups stolen from the temple in Jerusalem in a riotous party with his wives and concubines. The supernatural hand appeared and wrote a foreign language on the wall, a language no one at the party could understand. As one might expect, Belshazzar’s knees smote one against the other and he knew not what to do. The Queen Mother came on the scene and told the mindless playboy about old Daniel, who could interpret dreams, visions and all kinds of weird stuff.

Belshazzar called for the old Hebrew wise man and told him he would put a royal robe on him, give him a gold medallion and give him a third of the kingdom if he would interpret the strange writing. Daniel told the upstart he could keep his medallion, his robe and his promotion, but that he would tell him what the writing meant. It meant Belshazzar had been weighed in the scales of God and found wanting—he had not learned humility as the old king had in a season of lycanthropy. Consequently, his kingdom would be turned over to Darius. And, that interpretation came true that very evening. Thus, in the midst of defilement, Daniel’s integrity once again saved the day for himself, the Lord’s treasures and, as history confirms, his own people.

Finally, in the Lion’s Den story, we find that Daniel, with characteristic integrity, kept praying even though his prayers were forbidden by law. Consequently, he escaped the defilement intended. His accusers, not Daniel, became breakfast for the beasts.

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