Yesterday, I had a blast sharing about Daniel and his night in the Lion’s Den. It was the 2nd sermon in a series called “Great Nights of the Bible.”
One of the peculiar tasks for a preacher who shares about a familiar text is to not only confirm what the average hearer might already know about it, but to also suggest that there is something there that the hearer might not have seen, something hidden in plain sight. Preachers need to spook people, every now and again.
Yesterday, I suggested that Daniel is an important text in the late-Old Testament era because, as God’s people were in exile, away from home, they considered many options about their future. Generally speaking, despair or dreaming, were common.
Despair, because some struggled to find evidence that they were God’s people after the Babylon invasion. They were away from home, scattered all over God’s world. Jerusalem was destroyed and the Temple with it. What do they have left without those things? Psalm 137:1-4 is a lyrical expression of this despair:
1By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
when we remembered Zion.
2There on the poplars
we hung our harps,
3for there our captors asked us for songs,
our tormentors demanded songs of joy;
they said, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
4How can we sing the songs of the Lord
while in a foreign land?
The Punchline: we are away from Zion. All of God’s promises to us include our land, our temple, our law, and a king from David’s family forever. Without those, we have lost hope.
Dreaming– Daniel was miles from his zip code, his original expectation for life was intercepted by exile, but he didn’t give up. Daniel was a prominent leader in two different foreign empires: Babylon and Persia. He interpreted dreams, offered sound advice that changed world history. All while being an outsider, a faithful Jew, smuggled into the depths of the inner circle of the most influential people of the world.
So, alongside the despair sentiment in the Old Testament is a rival opinion, one that would suggest dreaming instead of despair.
These two are shouting at each other, right in the middle of our sacred texts.
This may seem like a peculiar trait of Scripture, after all, some are counting on the Bible being a rather easy, sanitized source for everything. Should Scripture have a shouting match with itself?
Remember the shape of this text, though. These are the sacred writings of God’s family over several centuries, people doing their best to walk with God through the complexities of life and through the tumultuous terrain of the development of cultures and civilizations. Yes, we affirm the peculiar nature of the Scriptures, as those inspired. But, let’s also be open to how inspiration happens.
For instance, if one were to read all of Proverbs and Ecclesiastes in one sitting (and donated an entire afternoon in the effort) they’d feel a parity in their intents. Some have suggested that Proverbs is a good manual for the first half of life (if you do this… expect this to happen) while Ecclesiastes is a recovery program for dealing with the second half of life (“all is meaningless”).
And they are side-by-side one another in the text.
Perhaps the folks who wanted both of these in the Scriptures knew a secret about inspiration: listening to the shouting match between two sources shapes us into the people that God wants us to be.
The Reformers had this neat belief about the Scriptures called the Efficacy of Scripture. There is something peculiar about the effect that these Scriptures have upon individuals and upon communities who open themselves the the reading, studying, hearing, and enacting of the text… they become the people of God.
That might be the ultimate aim and hope of inspiration.