In the book of Daniel, God gives Daniel and his friends some wonderful gifts. Daniel, as you might remember, is most famous for successfully exiting the lions’ den, alive and well, thanks to the Angel of the Lord who closed the lions’ mouths (Daniel 6:21). He is perhaps less well known for some remarkable talents, given to him by the Lord. One of these, is the “mastery of all literature.” I read this recently and was surprised by it. I didn’t remember that as being part of Daniel’s story.
Daniel and his three friends, Meshach, Shadrach, and Abednego, were Israelites who were exiled in Babylon and called into service in King Nebuchadnezzar’s palace. They were treated extremely well and given three years of training, at which time they were to enter the king’s service. Daniel 1:17 says that “God gave knowledge, mastery of all literature, and wisdom to these four men.” Why do you suppose God gave them these gifts of learning? How might the ability to understand literature have helped Daniel to survive exile in Babylon, away from his home and all that was familiar to him in Israel, or to spend a scary night in a lions’ den? Daniel’s friends, Meshach, Shadrach, and Abednego, also stood up for what was right at the risk of their own lives and became best known for successfully exiting a certain fiery furnace, also alive and well. What gave these remarkable young men the strength to hold firm to their belief in God, no matter what the consequences?
As a writer, I think about what literature is good for quite a lot–usually, about the time when I start to worry that I’m wasting my time. I mean, what good is literature? What contribution to the world will my little owl and mice characters make? What is my story for? Would some other activity benefit the world, or at least my family, more? (Forgive me if I’ve pondered these things in prior blogs, but it’s on my mind a lot!) Some writers don’t think this way at all. Prolific writer Tom Wolfe once said in an interview with a writing magazine something to the effect that writers weren’t “guardians of the soul,” and he didn’t write to “change the world.”
Daniel, Meshach, Shadrach, and Abednego did change their world. When they refused to worship, to bow to foreign gods, they were standing up for the God they knew, no matter what the outcome. And then, miraculously, like Fawkes in the Harry Potter series, who came through on several occasions to help those who showed great loyalty to Dumbledore, the Angel of the Lord rescued these loyal believers. When the Babylonian kings who Daniel and the others had defied were publicly shown to be wrong, they widely proclaimed the Israelites’ God as the only “god who can save in this way” (Daniel 3:30). King Darius of the lions’ den went so far as to proclaim widely that the God of Daniel was the “living God and he endures forever” (Daniel 6:26).
It makes me wonder. With God’s gift to these friends of understanding “all kinds” of literature, what stories did they read that bolstered their courage, shored up their hope, drew God to themselves ever closer? Perhaps Jewish scripture that they had learned as a child, perhaps stories from Babylon that they could draw godly truths from, despite their origin?
I loved the story, Heidi, as a child. There were many scenes that influenced my life, but the places where Heidi sang hymns or read the Bible with the blind grandmother helped me to see that hymns that proclaimed God’s Word can bring you peace in difficult situations. I probably shouldn’t have been surprised that when I felt so alone and anxious my first year living in Japan when I was a young teacher, hymns that I had memorized growing up were constantly going through my head!
What stories have you read that helped you in some way, particularly in living out or developing your faith? Do any from your childhood stand out? I’d love to hear about them! Post your thoughts in the comments to encourage us all!