Friday, May 06, 2011

Reading Daniel

Friday, May 6, 2011 -- Week of 2 Easter

To read about our daily commemorations, go to our Holy Women, Holy Men blog:

Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p. 958)
Psalms 16, 17 (morning)        134, 135 (evening)
Daniel 3:1-18
1 John 3:1-10
Luke 3:15-20

At my grandmother's house there was an old Bible story book.  I believe it was the book that my grandmother read Bible stories to my dad, and that he read from when was old enough to read.  It was an illustrated book of Bible stories.  Most of the illustrations were black and white, very realistic, often scary and haunting. 

Two of my favorite stories were from the book of Daniel.  My favorite was Daniel in the Lion's Den.  We'll read that in the Daily Office Lectionary  beginning a week from today.  I have a clear memory of the picture of Daniel, looking a lot like a little boy dressed in a bathrobe, standing sheepishly, it seemed to me, around some large li0ns.  I can't remember exactly, but I think the lions were mostly asleep.  (I Googled the image but didn't find it this morning.)

Another favorite story was the story that we have for today and tomorrow -- the story of the three men and the fiery furnace.  (You'll want to read ahead if you don't plan to do the Saturday office.)  There was another black and white picture of this story as well, showing the three young men deep in a fiery pit, with an angel among them. 

Part of the fun about this story comes if you read it out loud.  I've been in Morning Prayer when there was a good sized congregation and today's reading came up in the lectionary.  It always provokes some smiles and giggles.  The story has these wonderful lists that are repeated.  Children love lists like these.  "...the satraps, the prefects, and the governors, the counselors, the treasurers, the justices, the magistrates, and all the officials of the provinces..."  "...the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, drum, and entire musical ensemble..."  When the reader is reciting the latter list for the fourth time, as we do in today's reading, grownups want to giggle and children want to join in the recitation.  The darkness of the story becomes light in the telling.

And children love learning the exotic names of the three young men, also repeated four times today, and a full twelve times through the entire tale -- Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.  Great rhyme and rhythm.  I recall doing some spoof in seminary about Shad-roe, Michelob, and a Beer-to-go, and everybody caught the allusion. 

But this story has a serious purpose, a political purpose.  We know almost to the year the date of the final composition of the book of Daniel, sometime between 167 and 164 BCE.  Daniel addresses a political crisis when the Seleucid Syrian tyrant Antiochus IV Epiphanes ruled Israel so insultingly.  We know the date because there is a series of prophecies that reference precisely some historical events that anticipate the coming downfall of Antiochus IV.  When the prophecies begin to be inaccurate, we can know that the book was completed prior to those dates.  Antiochus' outrages inspired the Jewish rebellion of the rigorist Maccabees and their successful rededication of the Jerusalem Temple in 167 BCE.

Antiochus assumed some lofty titles -- Epiphanes means "manifest God."  The worship of national gods was considered a common act of loyalty to the state, a form of patriotism, not unlike our Pledge of Allegiance.  Antiochus allied with a party of reformist Hellenized Jews to promote more Greek customs among the Jewish people.  Many Jews saw these reforms as welcome moderizations, for many of their inherited customs seemed embarrassingly anachronistic -- circumcision, daily animal sacrifices, kosher foods.  In 167 BCE, Antiochus desecrated the Temple.  He erected a statue of Zeus in the Jerusalem Temple and demanded that Jews perform their patriotic and civic duty by including worship of Zeus in their prayers as they honored their own God. 

So our story today from Daniel begins by setting a similar outrage during the sixth century Babylonian exile and the reign of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon.  "King Nebuchadnezzar made a golden statue whose height was sixty cubits and whose width was six cubits."  At "the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, drum, and entire musical ensemble," everyone in the realm is required to "fall down and worship the golden statue."  The original audience knew what the story was talking about.  The three heroes who are faithful to God are protected during their fiery ordeal. 

It is a good story for today, when modernist influences of greed, individualism and power threaten our basic identity as a people who follow the compassionate teachings of Jesus and who obey the demands of a God of justice who defends the cause of the widow, orphan and alien.  We can be inspired to adhere to our identity and values, trusting that God will deliver the faithful, the poor and the weak from the arrogance of the powerful and self-centered.

It strikes me that today we have a couple of parallels to the book of Daniel.  As an entertaining satire with serious political intent, Daniel spoke to a contemporary generation in the 160's BCE.  John Stewart's Daily Show and Stephen Colbert do something similar for us today.  They can make us laugh with their stories and composition, but they also can make us angry enough to defend our values and to see through the presumptions of the powerful.  And today, we could use a little protection from the lions and the fire.



Audio podcast:  Listen to an audio podcast of the most recent Morning Reflections from today and the past week.  Click the following link:
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About Morning Reflections
"Morning Reflections" is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117
An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at -- Click for online Daily Office
Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site at this location -- --  Click for Divine Hours

Discussion Blog:  To comment on today's reflection or readings, go to, or click here for Lowell's blog find today's reading, click "comment" at the bottom of the reading, and post your thoughts.

The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church
is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

See our Web site at

Our Rule of Life: 
We aspire to...
    worship weekly
    pray daily
    learn constantly
    serve joyfully 
    live generously.

Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas


At 8:17 PM, Anonymous janet said...

I adore the three men and an angel in the fiery furnace story too!

And Blessed Feast Day to Lady Julian of Norwich

Since I am not clever enough for beer allusions, here instead is T.S. Eliot playing with Julian's words..

Whatever we inherit from the fortunate
We have taken from the defeated
What they had to leave us—a symbol:
A symbol perfected in death.
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well
By the purification of the motive
In the ground of our beseeching.

Julian is honored with a Christian feast day on May 13th. The Anglican and Lutheran churches honor her on May 8th.


At 8:03 AM, Blogger Lowell said...

Thanks for the wonderful passage from Eliot, and the reminder that Sunday was Dame Julian's day.

Next year we will have her celebration on a weekday.


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