Daniel Six: Lion’s Den

So we’ve gone through two kings at this point in the book, and it’s time for a new one. “And Darius the Mede received the kingdom at the age of sixty-two (Daniel 6:1).” Darius seems to govern well, at first. He has three ‘satraps’ to carry out his wishes, and over them are viziers, one of whom is Daniel. It seems like a government bureaucracy, which hopefully will keep things from escalating out of control for this new ruler. But first, he has to deal with the issue of Daniel. Daniel is naturally superior to the other government officials, which upsets all of them, because Darius favors him over all of them. “Then the viziers and the satraps sought to find a pretext against Daniel regarding the kingdom, but they could find no pretext or fault because he was trustworthy, and no error or fault was found about him (Daniel 6:5).”

So they take another tactic – if nothing can be found wrong with the man, they go on a mission to delegitimize his faith. They coerce the king into issuing a decree saying that anyone who prays to either a god or a man other than the king for thirty days should be thrown into a pit of lions. Leaving aside that this is insane, it’s clearly a plot against Daniel, because we know that he will not go a month without praying to or consulting God. And he doesn’t – he prays publicly, just as before, three times a day, and the bureaucrats seek him out with the goal of catching him in the act. The king is upset when he hears the news, and tries to give Daniel a reprieve, but the men don’t let him, reminding him that his decrees cannot be altered. They’re just the absolute worst.

So the king carries through, much like in the book of Esther where the king wanted to change his mind and walk back his decision, but couldn’t. Daniel is thrown into a pit of lions overnight. The king is restless, and wants to see if he lived, and in the morning, it turns out that God protected Daniel. “My God sent His angel, and he closed the mouths of the lions and they did not hurt me because a merit was found for me before Him, and also before you, O king, I have done no harm (Daniel 6:23).” The king has him taken out of the pit, and now, all of the men who set Daniel up, and their families, women and children included, are thrown into the pit and are crushed to death by the lions. I realize this is meant to be some kind of poetic justice, but it just seems to me to be just like the story back in Esther where justice turns into revenge, which turns into excessive brutality. I’m all about justified retribution, but these kinds of escalations leave me with a bad taste.


Daniel Three: Fire

“King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, its height sixty cubits, its width six cubits; he set it up in the plain of Dura, in the capital city of Babylon (Daniel 3:10.” I know that we’re anti-idols, particularly in Tanakh, but I have to say, this sounds kind of awesome. Sorry for that awkward blasphemy. All of the leaders of the community and kingdom gather for the dedication of the statue, and there’s a new edict that whenever the people in the kingdom hear music of any kind, they should immediately prostrate themselves to the gold statue. I can already tell that this won’t go well, particularly with the memory of our last book and how much Jews don’t like being told to bow.

And, just a couple of verses later, I’m right. “In view of this, at that time, some Chaldean men approached and denounced the Jews (Daniel 3:8).” They basically call out the Jews, Daniel’s friends, for not listening to the edict. The king becomes enraged that Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego don’t follow his commandment, particularly given that the punishment of choice is being thrown into a fiery pit. However, this doesn’t seem to bother them too much, as they are confident that God will save them from the fires. This doesn’t sit well for the king, of course, and he has them tied up and thrown into a furnace.

All of this backfires, as the men who did the throwing end up falling in and burning. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego are there and don’t burn, and there’s also a fourth figure, who is said to be an angel. Nebuchadnezzar is amazed, and calls them out of the fire. Once again, he is impressed by God, and he issues a new edict that no one can blaspheme the God of the Jews. “How great are His signs, and how mighty are His wonders! His kingdom is an eternal kingdom, and His dominion is with every generation (Daniel 3:33).”

Iyov Thirty-Six: God

“Behold God is great and we do not know; the number of His years is unfathomable (Job 36:26).” Elihu is speaking once again, and in this verse, I’m very content with what he has to say. A few years ago I was in a class where we were given the assignment to articulate our personal theologies as they pertained to our understandings of God. The opening line of my presentation was something to the effect of “I’m content to not have a full understanding of God and my feelings towards Him, and am comfortable with the inconsistencies of the various facets of His being because that to me contributes to His other-worldly greatness.” I still very much stand by that whole thought process, so this verse resonated with me because it seems to mirror my personal theology. In a world where we require answers and justifications for everything, it’s ok to leave something as a mystery, and in this case, God fulfills that role.

Iyov Twenty-Three: Searching

“Behold, I go to the east and He is not here, and to the west and I perceive Him not. In the north, when He made it I do not see; He wraps up the south and I cannot see (Job 23:9).” While in this case Job is not successful in his pursuit of God, what I like about it is that he went about actively searching for Him. So many of us sit still, waiting for things to find us or to happen to us. It’s easy to justify this methodology of leaving things up to ‘fate.’ But I firmly believe that we make our own fate, and it’s up to us to search in every physical/proverbial direction in order to find what we’re looking for. If something is important enough, we have to turn over every stone, look behind every corner, and journey wherever we need to in order to reach our goals. December has officially started, so people are starting to think in terms of resolutions – so maybe this year, let’s each pick one that matters that much to us.

Iyov Two: Repetition

This chapter is interesting in that it retells the story of how God and the Adversary decided to test Job. We already have the background information on him as a person, and now the text delves deeper into the relationship between the supernatural forces that make him relevant to us. “Now the Lord said to the Adversary, ‘Where are you coming from?’ And the Adversary replied to the Lord and said, ‘From going to and fro on the earth and from walking in it (Job 2:2).'” So many questions! Does God really not know where the Adversary is? What does it mean for him to be on the earth without supervision or oversight? What’s the difference between going to and fro and walking?

No answers, at least not yet.

Now we hear more about Job’s curses. He’s given boils, but it doesn’t make him curse God. His friends come to help him, but they’re just overcome with grief for him. “Afterwards, Job opened his mouth and cursed his day (Job 2:14).” He won’t curse God, but can complain about the legitimate terribleness of his day. This reminds me of people saying they don’t hate people, they hate their actions. I respect that, and wish I could be better about compartmentalizing like that.

Iyov One: Introductions

Today is the start of a new book, and for the first time in a while, we have some narrative! “There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was sincere and upright, God-fearing and shunning evil (Job 1:1).” Most people know the basics of the Job narrative, and this is a pretty basic introduction to him – he’s a good man, very loyal to God, and with this intro, we know his characteristics and location. We also find out that he has seven sons, three daughters, and a great amount of wealth in the form of livestock. Score for Job! His family seems pretty tight – every day, a different child hosts a feast and invites the other siblings to join, and at the end of each cycle, Job would sacrifice to God.

This all seems pretty peaceful and idyllic, and will of course all come to a crashing halt soon. God encounters ‘the Adversary,’ the euphemism for Satan in this translation. “Now the Lord said to the Adversary, ‘Have you paid attention to My servant Job? For there is none like him on earth, a sincere and upright man, God-fearing and shunning evil (Job 1:8).'” God is basically taunting Satan with Job’s righteousness, which leads Satan to counter and challenge God, saying that Job is only loyal because of the blessings that he’s been given. God takes the bait, and says that Satan can do whatever he wants to Job, other than physically harming him.

The problems begin right away. Job’s livestock is almost immediately destroyed, and all of his children die. It seems like things are already awful for Job, so I have no idea what it’ll mean for this devastation to be dragged out for over forty chapters. Hopefully the narrative will move things along, but I sense things may get repetitive!

Mishlei Six: Repentance

“There are six things that the Lord hates, and the seventh is an abomination of His soul; Haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood; a heart thinks thoughts of violence; feet that hasten to run to evil; [one who] speaks lies with false testimony and incites quarrels among brothers (Proverbs 6:16-19).” Damn. Things must be really bad if they’re listed as the things God hates the most. I like this list though – God hates liars, those who run to do or think or speak evil, and those who incite these things between others. The Jewish new year just passed, and we’re currently in the time known as the ten days of repentance, when we’re supposed to make amends for the wrongdoings between us throughout the year. And all of these things are things that on some scale, large or small, human beings have done to each other this year. For me personally, I can’t say that I’ve shed blood, but I’ve definitely lied, and moved closer to doing the wrong things than the right ones. So now I’m left wondering how I can do better this year. What steps can I take to be in a better position when I reflect a year from now?

Tehillim One Hundred and Thirty-Six: Kindness

More than many of the others, this psalm reads like a real poem when translated into English. Each verse ends with the same refrain: for His kindness is eternal. Every verse says something about God – why we should give thanks to Him, what he has done, and how He should be treated and respected, and concludes with this idea of eternal kindness. That’s the kind of deity I want to believe in, one who at the core is kind to the world, and to us. So for this chapter, I’ll share the first and the last verses:

“Give thanks to the Lord because He is good, for His kindness is eternal (Psalms 136:1).”

“Give thanks to the God of heaven, for His kindness is eternal (Psalms 136:26).”

Both of these verses convey beautiful sentiments. We should be giving thanks more, whether it’s to God, or to each other. There are so many things that I should be grateful for every day, and like all of us, I could stand to be much more mindful of them. Let’s all pick someone to say thank you to tomorrow – they deserve it!

Tehillim One Hundred and Eighteen: Hallel

As I started reading this psalm, I began, as I always do, in English. But as some of the translations began to look a bit familiar, I quickly realized that I know the Hebrew for this one, because it’s used in the Hallel service. Hallel is the additional set of prayers said on most holidays. When I was little and went to synagogue with my dad, I used to get so excited to hear that it was a Hallel day, because even though it elongates an already long service, I loved singing these special additional words. As you’ve seen, the 150 psalms are a long slog at times, so it’s great to get rejuvenated with one that I truly love. And, of course, only 32 more to go!

“The Lord is for me; I shall not fear. What can man do to me (Psalms 118:6)?” It must be amazing to have complete faith that God is on your side, and as a result, there’s nothing to be afraid of. While personally I feel connected to God, or whatever higher power is there, I don’t necessarily think that means that I can’t be hurt by my fellow human beings. It would honestly scare me too much to be fully dependent on this kind of relationship with God. I think that people need to be proactive and take charge of their own lives and actions, rather than assume that divine intervention will take care of things. But intentional action, coupled with the confidence that faith can bring, sounds like the ideal state of being.

Tehillim One Hundred and Thirteen: God

“Who is like the Lord, our God, Who dwells on high (Psalms 113:5).” There’s an inherent paradox in our relationships with God. On the one hand, He is completely ‘other.’ There is nothing comparable in human beings, or other deities. God is eternal, magnificent, all-powerful, in a way that none of us can never imagine. But at the same time, we’re supposed to be made in His image, and to at least aspire to behavior that mirrors His. So does this verse indicate a fallacy, that no one is anything like God? Or is it truly asking us who among us is like God, and is living a just and moral life?