The Relevance of Daniel’s Experience to Hong Kong
The prophet Daniel was introduced as an example of extending God’s blessing in a hostile environment in my previous post. He not only lived out his allegiance to God, but he also lifted the hearts of the Gentile kings to praise the Lord. It is worth delving in more detail as to how Daniel proclaimed his faith tacitly. There could have been a lot of tension for a prophet who served the holy Lord and simultaneously earthly kings who employed magicians, enchanters, sorcerers, diviners, and astrologers in the administration team (Daniel 1:20, 2:2, 4:7, 5:11). It would have been difficult to handle the contradictions between the secular and the sacred in the day-to-day work.
Many of us in Hong Kong are similarly perplexed concerning whether we should submit to certain government policies in violation of our values. Since the past social unrest in Hong Kong, there have been heated arguments in Christian circles on this topic. The search for guidance becomes more pressing after the enactment of the National Security Law which denotes a historic change in Hong Kong.
Daniel also lived at a watershed moment—the commencement of exile for God’s chosen people. Daniel and his friends were pioneering Jews embarked on a compulsory mission journey to proclaim the goodness of God in a cross-cultural and cross-ideological setting. A brief review of the former age of the United Monarchy would help us understand God’s plan in the historic transition.
A Shift in Paradigm
When the Israelites were miraculously brought out of enslavement in Egypt, God conferred the Law as a gracious gift to his elected people through Moses. The Law made them understand and observe God’s will so that the whole community would live in shalom, a state of perfect peace, because of God’s continuous heavenly blessing.1 The Law also set apart their identity as a priestly kingdom and a holy nation (Exodus 19:6). A priestly nation, the mediator between God and man, would fulfill God’s intention to attract other nations to come to know him.2 Such centripetal pull reached a climax during Solomon’s reign when the Queen of Sheba visited his court with a caravan bearing spices, gold, and gems. What she saw and heard was so convincing that she praised the Lord for the bountiful blessings that he was showering on his people (1 King 10:9).
The downfall of the Northern and Southern kingdoms ruined the centripetal strategy. Yet God’s intention to bless all peoples remained steadfast. He turned from a centripetal-pulling strategy to an outward-pushing approach to proceed on his mission for all nations.
Jeremiah, who prophesied and witnessed the turning point, unveiled God’s missional view in his writings. The following points illustrate how God set his eyes on the whole earth in Jeremiah’s narration:
- Jeremiah was appointed as a prophet to the nations (a plural word in Jeremiah 1:5). Phrases like all nations, all kingdoms, over all the nations appear over 40 times in the books of Jeremiah and Lamentations. Apart from focusing on the issues in Judah, the books of Jeremiah and Lamentations explicitly shift readers’ attention to a universal horizon of all the nations. Judah was considered as one of all the nations to be judged and saved by the divine word through his prophecy.3
- Jeremiah edified the Jews in exile to (a) seek shalom and prosperity of the city, and (b) pray to the Lord for shalom. Shalom is a vessel embodying the abundant blessings from the Lord.4 The exiles would prosper together with the city they sojourned in. The Lord planned to prosper them and not to harm them. The exilic plan was to give them hope and a future (Jeremiah 29:7, 11). In other words, the outward dispersal of God’s people became part of his missional plan to extend his blessings to further boundaries.
With this backdrop, Daniel was carried into exile in Babylon, transitioning from a centripetal pull to an outward extending paradigm.
From the viewpoint of biblical theology, different books in the Bible are consistent in principles. Daniel would carry forward Jeremiah’s principles to Babylon. He would then seek the following in his adventure:
- Humility: The Jews’ minds were hardened in pride as the chosen people (Jeremiah 13:9-11). They would have to admit that they failed God’s expectations. What they needed most was to repent and rebuild their relationship with God.
- Shalom: The Jews misconceived that the Temple, the Promised Land, and the Law guaranteed them peace (Jeremiah 7:3-6, 8:8-11). True shalom did not rely on these outward features. Neither did it pertain only to peace in the heart. Rather, the full context of shalom is comprised of three areas of wellness including (a) material well-being and prosperity (Jeremiah 33:6-9), (b) peaceful relationships through upholding justice (Isaiah 54:13-14), and (c) integrity (Psalm 34:14).5
Building the Foundations of Shalom
If we look for these areas in the book of Daniel, we can find that Daniel and his friends fruitfully established the necessary foundations for creating shalom in the foreign kingdoms. In the first place, Daniel made solid contributions to the prosperity of the state during his tenure. He remained in service in the court from the reign of Nebuchadnezzar to Cyrus, from Babylon to Persia (Daniel 1:21). His performance was well remembered by the queen even though Belshazzar was ignorant of this meritorious statesman (Daniel 5:11). Darius even planned to appoint Daniel to take charge of an important office for safeguarding the benefits of the king (Daniel 6:1-3).
Secondly, Daniel built good relationships with all the senior leaders he served although these officials and governors were involved in invading his homeland, plundering the Temple, capturing his beloved countrymen, and even slaughtering his relatives and friends. Whenever Daniel had a request, he raised it tactfully with the guards, officials, and kings by putting himself into their shoes (Daniel 1:12-13, 2:16). Especially, he empathically worried about Nebuchadnezzar who disclosed his dream of a tree being cut down, signifying a scourge due to the king’s injustice. To avoid the disaster, Daniel sincerely advised the king to turn to righteousness and kindness in his ruling. By doing so, Daniel advocated justice for the poor and oppressed in the country (Daniel 4:19, 27).
Thirdly, Daniel’s exemplary integrity served as a light to the Gentiles. Out of jealousy against Daniel’s distinguished performance, the satraps teamed up to find fault in him. But his conduct was so exemplary that they failed to uncover any blemish. Darius was eventually enlightened in his pursuance of the truth (Daniel 6:4-5, 26-27).
In that highly confrontational environment (Daniel 2:11, 3:15, 6:16), Daniel and his companions managed to overcome challenges and glorify God at the end of each life and death event. God endowed them with guidance, nourishment, protection, and blessing for creating holistic shalom through their ministries in the court. However, building shalom was just one side of Daniel’s deeds which reflected his submissiveness to the superiors. To complete the picture, in my next post I will explore the subversive side of his service and how he swiveled wisely between the two.
- Perry B. Yoder, Shalom: The Bible Word for Salvation, Justice and Peace, (Kansas: Faith & Life Press, 1987), p. 80-84.
- Elmer A. Martens, “Embracing the Law: A Biblical Theological Perspective”, Bulletin for BiblicalResearch, BBR 02:1 (NA 1992), p. 25.
- Jerry Hwang, “The Missio Dei as an Integrative Motif in the Book of Jeremiah”, Bulletin for Biblical Research, BBR 23:4 (NA 2013), p. 481-487.
- Lenn E. Goodman, The Holy One of Israel, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2019), p. 68-69.
- Perry B. Yoder, Shalom: The Bible Word for Salvation, Justice and Peace, (Kansas: Faith & Life Press, 1987), p. 10-16.
Image credit: johnlsl via Flickr.
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