Others had spoken for God to those who claimed to carry his name. Not Daniel. In Daniel’s story we see the consummate exile: God’s people completely divested of political power, deported slaves in a foreign country.
Daniel had been resettled when Babylon exiled the leaders and the educated from Judah, and proves to be a wise and winsome leader in the midst of a culture that has its own new version of morality. It’s hard to find a better example of Jeremiah’s advice to the exiles, to seek the welfare of the country of exile (Jer 29:4-7). Time and again, Babylon prospers because of Daniel’s devotion and effort. In some ways, Daniel is the token minority: his food is different, his customs are different, he is in constant threat of losing his job or his life, and everyone is always looking to find fault with him. In spite of this, Daniel works harder and is more competent than any of his contemporaries—knowing their own literature, language, and magic better than they did! For all these reasons he’s loved . . . and hated.
After breaking a law made especially for trapping people like him, Daniel is sentenced to death, placed in a pit with a stone rolled over the entrance and sealed. This righteous man, in the pit of his worst nightmare, is not torn to shreds by the vicious animals surrounding him. Instead, he is raised out of the darkness of the pit, has his life restored, and is completely vindicated. Meanwhile, his enemies, poetically (at least as poetic as death by lion can be) suffer the defeat they intended for him. It wouldn’t be the last time the stone rolled away revealing how God’s kingdom works.
Time and again, Daniel watched the long arm of the Lord reach into Babylon, reminding him and them who was the real King of the World. No one, no king, no nation, was beyond his reach. He reached inside the furnace (3:25), He could drive a dictator out to pasture (4:28-37), and He literally put the writing on the wall of the rave-turned-orgy in front of the most powerful man on earth (5:1-9). With all the violence and all the upheaval as the nations raged like animals, God still laughed at them (Ps 2). They didn’t know who they caught a glimpse of in the furnace, protecting His boys. He was the stone who turned world empires to dust and filled the world (2:34-35). He was the hand over the lion’s mouth (6:22). He was the human Daniel saw rolling in on thunderheads (7:13) given all power and authority (Mt 28:19-20) and worshiped by every tribe, nation, and tongue in an everlasting, invincible kingdom (Rev 7:9). Daniel’s God was a king. Not just King of the Jews, the King of Kings.
In chapter 9, Daniel repents for the sins of his ancestors. Remembering the curses from Moses’ day, Daniel also acts like Moses, standing in the gap: confessing the sins of his sinful nation while begging for God’s mercy on that nation. And God answers in a peculiar way. He lets Daniel know that instead of the 70 years Jeremiah had predicted, the exile will actually last 490 years (70×7), confirmation that the small band led by Nehemiah and company had not ended anything.
Daniel reminds us there is no more profound act of resistance to oppressive world systems than prayer. Instead of kowtowing to authority figures to be sucked in and pulled along by either promises of promotion (5:17) or threats of violence (2:17), Daniel prays. Every day, he kneels before God so he can stand up to world powers. He is not unkind, he simply tells it like it is, calling Nebuchadnezzer to change his ways for his own good and for the sake of the oppressed (4:27). Daniel had everything to lose by simply praying. Yet he practiced civil disobedience by showing everyone to whom he bowed the knee, from where his power and agency came. He would not, could not, change anything before acknowledging his dependence on God. He staked his life on God revealing what he should say and do instead of his ability to figure it out (2:17-27). What about us?
The whole time he resisted oppressive systems, suffered the pain of marginalization, stuck his neck out for his friends and enemies, was threatened with death multiple times, and then gave his best energies to the country that had enslaved him and killed his family, Daniel probably wondered why God had asked him to seek the prosperity of this place, these people. Our recourse is not escaping the systems of this world. No. Even while the nations rage and ravage around us like animals, no one can ever stop us from serving the true King, here and now on this planet. After all, it is all his, and He is always with us.
Listen: Daniel 1-12 (especially Daniel 1-6, 9)