Of Kings and Kingdoms
It is interesting to note that narrative is the single most common type of literature found in the Bible. Perhaps as significant as the biblical stories themselves is the reality that we find God who chooses to communicate so much through story. There is much to see and hear if we will sit attentively before the Storyteller.
In the narratives of Daniel, we are introduced to a king in control and a kingdom in order. It is not insignificant that Daniel is introduced within this pleasingly ordered picture. As one of the three presidents serving just below the king, Daniel is a key player in the contented kingdom, and of this, the king is well aware. The narrative imparts, “Then this Daniel became distinguished above all the other presidents and satraps, because an excellent spirit was in him. And the king planned to set him over the whole kingdom” (6:3). Interestingly, the word for “distinguished” here hints of a bright and excelling person with an enduring character, while the word for “excellent” denotes a surpassing and extreme spirit. In light of all that Daniel endures, from exile to injustice to the den of lions, no doubt these words were very clearly and deliberately chosen.
Interestingly, King Darius was not the only king to note in Daniel these distinguishable qualities. Through each chapter of the book of Daniel we see his successful climbing of the political ladder from captive prisoner to sage to chief sage to administrator over the province to the king’s personal adviser to third ruler in the kingdom.(1)
Daniel’s great success may well incite our power-revering, name-making minds to curiosity. What is it that really distinguishes a person among others? And what was it that set Daniel apart in such a way that kings of a kingdom in which he was a mere foreigner desired him close by as they ruled?
No doubt, we find in Daniel a man hopeful in the face of exile, a person of integrity in the midst of conniving injustice, a figure of prayer though Jerusalem lies in ruins, and a creature of endurance—from serving within the royal courts to crouching within the lions’ den. Truly, there is much that readers could presume from his quiet spirit, intense faith, and radical obedience. Daniel was distinguished in character, excellent in spirit, set apart in life and practice.
But the story offers a less speculative insight into the excellent spirit of Daniel. Significantly, everything King Darius says to Daniel throughout the entire narrative is in direct reference to Daniel’s God. The story powerfully points to God as the reason for Daniel’s distinguishable spirit in the eyes of a powerful king. And as Daniel speaks from the darkness of the pit after a night among lions, all agree, having now seen a more powerful crown. Daniel is distinguished because Daniel’s God, the Most High King, is distinguished. In fact the very first words Daniel speaks in the story are a proclamation of what God has done, “My God sent his angel, and he shut the mouths of the lions.” The living God has accomplished what all others could not.
Though to many the divine throne appeared to be empty, Daniel stirred hopeful confidence in the redemptive plan of a powerful king who lovingly calls us into a bigger story.
(1) See D.N. Fewell, Circle of Sovereignty (Sheffield Academic Press, 1988).
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