Dr. Tremper Longman III
Tremper Longman III [00:00:00] So up to this point. And Daniel, chapter one, we've had Daniel and his three friends taken off to Babylon, and now they're being trained, or we might say reprogramed to serve the interests of the Babylonian empire. Part of that is because in an expanding empire, you kind of need more and more resources at the core. And as the Babylonians themselves may be getting kind of depleted now, they're going to be training people from other countries to serve important roles within their empire. And it's also a way of trying to win the hearts and minds of these children, of foreign rulers. We actually have some interesting texts from the 14th century B.C., so hundreds of years before the time of Daniel, but around the time of the exodus called the Amarna letters, which are letters written by Canaanite kings to their overlord, the Egyptian pharaoh. And they too had been taken to Egypt and kind of trained and then sent back to serve as as rulers or kings of their particular city states, whether it was Jericho or Jerusalem, even the Canaanite Kings before the Israelites took over. So so that I think, is the purpose behind this Babylonian policy. And so they've been taken to Babylon. They've had their names changed. They had perhaps then made eunuchs. And so far, no protests, no refusal. And it continues when we read in verse four that Ashkenazi was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians. Now, that sounds kind of benign at first sight, right? Okay. So they're going to learn the language. They're going to learn the literature of the Babylonians. But let's dig a little deeper and realize just how toxic this curriculum would be to their faith. First of all, just a word about the language. This has more to do with how hard this curriculum would be. They were all native Aramaic speakers, but the language of the literature was Akkadian. And as somebody who studied Akkadian in graduate school, I could tell you it's a difficult language to master. It's the language of the Babylonians and Assyrians. The literary language at this particular point. But it's a syllabic language that means that each sign stands for one syllable, and you combine those signs to create words. There are 700 different signs, cuneiform signs. Perhaps you've seen it in a museum or in a picture book or something like that. But it every sign can stand up, can stand for up to say, seven, eight, nine different syllables depending on the context. So this is not easy language and skill. And wise men like Daniel and three friends are being trained to be take years. And but it's particular when it comes to the literature, the literature that we could see just how toxic it is. Let's remember that that the literature of the Babylonians and interestingly enough, archeologists have discovered ancient texts from this time period, including the kind of curriculum that would have been used in this kind of situation. And simply to learn the writing and the literature would include, for instance, learning how to read and understand a text that we call the Numa Elish. Which are actually the first two Akkadian words of this text, which means when on high. And it's the story of how the God Marduk. Created the cosmos and human beings begins with the conflict between Marduk and a sea monster goddess named Tiamat. I won't go into all the details. That's really not important here. But he defeats Tamar, divides her into two with the lower half. He creates the the sea by pushing sea and the earth, by pushing back the waters, creating a boundary, and then placing her upper half into the sky and putting the God's stars into the sky. Then he takes a demon God named Kingo, who supported Tiamat in the battle, executes him, takes his blood, mixes it with some of the clay of the earth to create human beings. By the way, there's an interesting echo of taking clay and the blood of a demon God related to Genesis two seven, taking the dust of the earth and God breathing on it. Again, I would take this as a figurative depiction of the creation of human beings, but notice the difference between the two. Whereas Marduk uses the blood of a demon God, which which suggests that human beings are evil from their very origin, as opposed to from the breath of God, which is a dignified view of human beings. And then Genesis three tells us where human sin and evil come from. It's not from their creation by Yahweh, but rather by human rebellion against God. So so the point is the hold that, you know, Daniel, three friends are learning this type of literature. Another text that would have been part of their curriculum is what we call the Gilgamesh epic today, where at one of its climactic points, it narrates the flood, where Gilgamesh goes and visits the flood hero, a man named Una Pista. In order to find out how Una pitched him. Did you get eternal life? Because that's what I'm looking for, Gilgamesh is asking. And then in a pitched M tells the story of the flood, which is extremely similar in many ways to the to the Israelite version of the flood. Except, of course it features pagan gods and features someone other than Noah as surviving the flood. If you're interested, by the way, and pursuing what to make of that kind of close parallel yet with significant differences, my friend John Walton and I wrote a book called Lost World of the Flood, where we study that question, plus other questions surrounding the flood story in Genesis 6 to 9. And there would be other text, too. These are just two examples. The point is that as they're studying the language and literature of the Babylonians, they're studying a curriculum which is extremely toxic to their faith. And not only do they do it and not protest at the end of the chapter, they're the valedictorians. All right. But I haven't begun to scratch the surface of that curriculum. A large part of their curriculum would have been learning divination practices, learning divination practices. The Babylonians would do divination in various ways. And it was a big part of the curriculum. A lot of the literature we have from this time period has to do with these various types of divination, including astrology, including and this is probably the most frequent way that Babylonian wise men would discern the future, which is by killing a lamb or some kind of animal, extracting its liver and examining it. Archeologists have even recovered model livers with various parts of the liver named on them that were used to teach young wise men how to discern the future. So. So would you know whether they'd look and see if the liver at this particular point was hard or soft brown or red or yellow ash or something, and they would all have some kind of significance for the question that the Diviner would pose. But the part I want to emphasize, because it's going to play a role in Daniel chapter two is dream interpretation. Dream interpretation, which would have been a part of their curriculum as well. However, dream interpretation works differently in a Babylonian context than it did than it does in the Bible. If you look at somebody like Joseph or even Daniel later, this is the way Dream interpretation worked. And as I say, it will play a key role in our understanding of Daniel. Chapter two. If somebody has a dream that they think has significance for the future, they will then go to a wise man and they will tell the wise men the dream. Yeah, in my dream this happened and this appeared such. And so the dream interpreter would then go and consult the commentary. You know, we have commentaries for biblical text. They had commentaries for dreams. They do research, and we actually have dream interpretation texts that have been translated into English, though you probably can't find that translation in your corner library or even a seminary library. But. But. But they are in specialized libraries like the one I studied in the Babylonian collection at Yale. But yeah, so. And it says, well, you know, if a tree of a certain sort appears, it signifies this. And then they'd come back and say, This is what your dream means. So keep that in mind. But for Daniel, chapter one, again, I want to point out that we get no vocal protest or refusal. And and again, you know, whenever can Ezra, at the end of the chapter says these are the best. I think that means that they learned how to interpret these live Romans better than anybody else and know how to interpret dreams. But as I said, hold on. Don't get too worried about the fact that Daniel, three friends aren't protesting this until we come to Daniel chapter two and complete our understanding of this aspect of their training. And, you know, the fact that they don't protest on these measures makes the fact that as we read on that they'll refuse to eat the food and drink the wine that Nebuchadnezzar provides for them all the more striking, right. So far, no, no protest about being made. Eunuchs, no protests about the name, no protest about learning the language and literature in the Babylonians. But in verse five, we read read that the king assigned them a daily amount of food and wine from the King's Table. They were to be trained for three years, and after that they were asked to enter into the King's service. Now skipping down to verse eight, But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine, and he asked the chief official for permission not to defile himself this way. Now God had caused the official to show favor and compassion to Daniel, but the official told Daniel, I am afraid of my Lord, the King who has assigned your food and drink. Why should he see you? I notice this looking worse than the other young men your age. The king would then have my head because of you. Daniel then said to the guard whom the chief official had appointed over Daniel Hanna. And I am Michele and Azariah. Please test your servants for ten days. Give us nothing but vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then compare our appearance with that of the young men who eat the royal food and treat your servants in accordance with what you see. So he agreed to this and tested them for ten days. At the end of the ten days, they looked healthier and better nourished. Than any of the young men who ate the royal food. So the guard took away their choice, food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables instead. Okay, let's explore this a little bit. Why are they refusing to eat the king's food and drink the king's wine and rather eat vegetables and water and and a couple of the most. Immediately likely explanations, I believe, fall short. And one of the reasons why they fall short and I'll just tell you about this that we need to take into consideration before I even consider them turned at the end of chapter ten course. We're going to come much later today, not ten, but now we're in the third year of Cyrus King of Persia. A revelation was given to Daniel was called Delta. Ah, its message was true and it concerned a great war. The understanding the message came to him in a vision. At that time I, Daniel, mourn for three weeks I ate no choice food, no meat or wine. Touch my lips, and I used no lotions at all until the three weeks were over. So what did that tell us? It tells us that actually Daniel's refusal to drink wine and to not eat the choice food is a temporary measure. It's not something that characterizes their later life, because as they he gets this disturbing dream for three weeks until the angels come to interpret the vision for him, he can't eat the food and he can't drink the wine. So here are some of the possibilities that I don't think is are adequate. The first is they want to keep kosher, okay. And they want to keep kosher. They don't want to eat the king's food because they need to keep kosher. Referring to the laws, you know, in Leviticus and Deuteronomy that say that these foods are clean and these foods are unclean. Well, again, if that were the case, then that would this would not be a temporary, you know, refusal to drink wine and eat the food. So I don't think that's quite adequate. And indeed, there's even a question whether you can keep kosher in a foreign land and wine is not prohibited in terms of being an unclean beverage or anything like that. So that one doesn't seem adequate to me. There's another possible explanation which is political, that is they're refusing to eat from the King's table, which is a way of sort of showing a political alliance with a king. If the king invites you to your table, you're showing that, yeah, I will be your vassal. But they are his vassal, first of all. And then secondly, they are eating as vegetables. And so so again, I don't find this compelling either. And indeed, you know, one of the interesting things about the Book of Daniel, as with Ezra Nehemiah later, is that, you know, Daniel develops something of a relationship with Nebuchadnezzar. It's not like he's trying to find ways to avoid serving him or trying to undermine his, you know, his rule. So and he does function as a servant within the Babylonian court. So so I don't think that's a good explanation either. A third possible explanation is that they're refusing to eat food offered to idols. They refused to eat food, offered to idols. Now, the problem with this explanation is that it seems, based more on a Roman understanding of food offered to idols. Because meat being offered to idols because in a Babylonian context, we know full well that all the food was offered to the idols. There's a wonderful chapter in a in an older book called Ancient Mesopotamia by a O Leo, a Leo Oppenheim. Well, just say Leo Oppenheim. And the chapter is called The Care and Feeding of the Gods. It's fascinating. And it's based on ancient Akkadian texts that talk about how all the food in the household, particularly in the royal court, would have been sort of ritually offered to the gods and whatever was leftover, which was considerable. It was then consumed by the household. My point is, there's no reason to think, based on what we know about Babylonian practices, that the vegetables also weren't offered to the gods. So if that's the case, what is going on? Again, I want to read it in its original setting. And to do so, I think you have to ask the question, what did the ideal Babylonian wise man look like? What did the ideal Babylonian wise man look like? And you might ask how how can you know? Well, you can know because the Babylonians left pictorial depictions. In terms of low reliefs that were on, say, palace walls that were that were discovered by archeologists over the years, over the past hundred plus years when archeology began again in Iraq today. And you can go to the British Museum in London or the Louvre in Paris or close to home. You can go to the University Museum and Philadelphia or the Oriental Museum in Chicago or the Metropolitan Museum in New York City, any place that has ancient near Eastern artifacts. And you can see them, first of all. Well, and I should preface this by talking about the fact that different cultures have different esthetic standards for male and female beauty. And I'm fully aware, as a professor of college students, how how bad these kind of standards of beauty can be to people's self self-esteem. But this was not an issue back in antiquity. And the art is is showing that what Babylonian standards for male beauty were at that time or what they expected different classes of people to look like. Maybe I'll spice it up with a little anecdote that happened to me about 20 years ago in terms of really revealing to me that different cultures even today, have different standards of beauty. I taught at Westminster Seminary for the first 18 years of my career and way back in the eighties had an African students. We had a number of African students, but I noticed one of my African students was looking kind of dejected and an evening kind of get together. So I went over to him and I said, Are you okay? You're doing all right. And he looked at me. He goes, You know, I came here. I left my wife and 13 children back in Africa because they couldn't come over here. I haven't seen her for a couple of years. Reminded me of just what a great sacrifice many people go through in terms of getting seminary training. And he said to me, I miss my wife. She is so bad. And I thought to myself, this guy is not cool enough to be saying, you know? And so he goes, Oh, you, you Americans. He goes, you know, you you prize. People who are thin and mean he because not in Africa. In Africa. We like people who have a little bit of girth. He didn't put it quite that way, but that's what he meant. And then I did a little bit of study. And it is true that in cultures like ours, where there's an abundance of food, the idea is, you know, thinness. Again, I'm not I'm not approving of these kind of standards, but to be thin means that somebody has self-control, which is not even always true, of course. Whereas in Africa, where there's a lack of food, to have a little bit of girth is a sign of prosperity and health. So so again, now back to the main point, which is that in these pictorial depictions of men, of course, the warrior classes, as you might expect them well muscled. I mean, it's amazing the way that they get the detail of the calf muscles and the biceps and all that. As the king and his soldiers are depicted in battle. When it comes to wise men, what did they look like? They were chubby, bald, and they're depicted with big eyes. But I think that has more to do with wisdom or intelligence than with actual physical look. And they're you know, they're probably eunuchs, too. So if this is kind of maybe changing your pictorial representation of Daniel and his three friends, so be it. But we tend to imagine our biblical heroes in our own cultural ways. So, so. So what is the purpose of the king assigning, you know, the food and the wine? I think it is to, you know, kind of get them to look like a chubby, wise man. And so actually the diet that Daniel and the three friends choose to follow vegetables and water would actually this is what worried entrepreneurs and this is which is that they would eat, drink the water, eat the vegetables and they'd look really thin. And that's not what never cancer wanted to look like. But at the end of the ten days and notice, by the way, how Daniel, who is kind of a representation of a wise man, too, when he runs into an obstacle, he doesn't fret. He doesn't he doesn't get worried. But he thinks of another way to achieve his desired end, which is approaching the delivery boy essentially, and saying, you know, let's try this out. And and what Daniel and the three friends are thinking, let's try this out to give God room to work. In other words, we're not going to let Nebuchadnezzar control this completely so that at the end, when he announces us the best he is, he is saying to himself, that's because of my education and it's because of my diet. But Daniel and the three friends, plus all of us who are reading this text now, I want never can. Ezra was in control of his God who was in control. And in spite of their diet, God made them look better nourished than all the other men. So. So that's the way I understand this. And my apologies to Rick Warren, who wrote a whole book on the Daniel Diet plan after noticing that he had put on some weight and that everybody he was baptizing had looked a little chunky, He wrote a book suggesting that Daniel Diet plan to lose some weight. Good, good, healthy intention there. But Daniel's not your model, all right? Because he was chubby at the end of this chapter. Now, this sets up Daniel chapter two, which we're going to turn to in just a moment. But again, let me first of all, read the end of the chapter. To these four young men. God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning, and Daniel could understand visions and dreams of all kinds. So already in chapter one, the narrator is telling us that it's not never cancer. Who gave them knowledge and understanding or what we will see in Daniel Chapter two True Knowledge and Understanding. It wasn't Nebuchadnezzar. It was actually God who did it. And then at the end of the time, set by the King to bring them into his service, the chief official presented them to have a confessor. King talked with them and found none equal to Daniel Hanna. And I am Michele and Azariah. So they entered the King Service in every manner of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them. He found them ten times better than all the magicians and chanters in his whole kingdom. Okay. That's what I mean by valedictorian. They are number one, two, three and four in class. All the other people in Babylonian university were behind them. And Daniel remained there until the first year of King Cyrus. So we'll see that as the chapters progress, We'll move through the history of the neo Babylonian period and end up at the beginning of the Persian period. And I'll talk a little bit about that history, historical background later. But now I'd love it if you had any questions or comments before we go on to Daniel to where we're going to see the other shoe drop. I mean, Daniel, chapter one is saying Daniel and his three friends physical look that pleases Nebuchadnezzar is not the result of never Nasir's diet, but because of Yahweh. Daniel Chapter two is going to now inform us, the reader, that their true wisdom comes not from the mechanisms training in Babylonian university, but rather from Yahweh himself. Yeah.
Audience Member 1 [00:30:31] It's a challenge to listen to God's voice and determine how we should act in different situations, especially when you have all kinds of cultural things going on. Because it seems like the decisions that Daniel and his friends made would seem to us counterintuitive. He agrees to learn the literature, learn the language, learn all these different practices that would be outside of their normal experience with how they worship God. And some would even say the opposite of what they should be doing. And yet he disagrees with the food thing. Yeah, which would seem a minor.
Tremper Longman III [00:31:19] Right.
Audience Member 1 [00:31:20] Deal. Right. So it's a it's a challenge to listen to the Lord's voice and determine how it is we should act, because sometimes it's not. As much as we would consider it a logical thing that we would come up with in our own logic and reasoning.
Tremper Longman III [00:31:40] Yeah, Yeah, that that's a great point. And, and, you know, I think what we can learn from Daniel chapter one is that how we interact with our toxic culture. Isn't formulaic. In other words, you know, it's not like anything that seems to be a problem in terms of our relationship with God that we need to protest against and we need to not observe. We have to use our wisdom in our own particular context to know whether we should withdraw, We should protest, we should we should, you know, engage. You know, I think, you know, my kids went to different types of schools when they were young. My children are now 44, 42 and 38. I just took my granddaughter, 16 year old granddaughter, on a tour at Georgetown University and George Washington University two days ago. So, you know, and as somebody who taught at a Christian, it still does Christian liberal arts context and and, you know, kind of help guide my sons through two schools. And at one point they were in Christian schools and other point, some of them were in private secular schools. Public school. You know, I again, I think to me, it's a matter of you got to know your child. You got to know the local situation in terms of what's available out there. It's not a formulaic decision. Like my children need to go to non-Christian schools because they have to be a witness out there in the world or or that they have to go to a Christian school because I don't want them exposed to secular ideas. Again, it's kind of like and in terms of advising a child, depending on their age, sometimes you're doing more than advising, you're telling them you're going to this school. But but you you have to take a variety of factors into account, which, by the way, is the heart of wisdom and the Old Testament and the New Testament. But the Old Testament book like Proverbs. I just wrote a article for the Word and World magazine on this topic that the book of Proverbs tells us it is more than just knowing the Proverbs and interpreting them correctly. You also have to learn how to interpret a situation and also understand the people that you're dealing with, because otherwise, how are you going to apply Proverbs 26 verse four, which says, Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you'll be like him yourself, followed immediately by answer, Fool according to his folly, or he'll be wise in his own eyes. And so what you got to do is you got to try to understand the situation and the fool you're interacting with, you know, and make a kind of like, well, my answer, help or hurt. Are there other people around? Even if this person is so stubborn, they won't listen. That can be influenced. So that's what I mean, by the way, Daniel being a wise man and Daniel chapter one, that he evaluates the situation, he approaches entrepreneurs, and he probably has some confidence to approach them because as the text tells us, Ashkenazi respects them. But entrepreneurs refuses. And then. He doesn't panic. He just thinks about the situation a little bit more and says, Oh, I'll talk to the delivery boy. He might be more open to it, especially since somebody has got to eat that rich food and drink the wine, namely him and his friends probably. But yeah, so I think you're right. But how do you I think behind your question, your comment to add is how do we how do we come to the point like Daniel, that we can navigate situations? And, you know, I can't say for sure exactly how God communicated to Daniel that he should protest this and not the other things. And it may be simply not that God actually spoke audibly to Him or in a dream to do this, but he he thought about it in terms of what he knew about God and about the situation and and felt moved to go in that direction. And that leads me to a comment about wisdom and growing in wisdom are growing in maturity, which I, I think today means not only knowing scripture well and growing in our understanding of Scripture, but also learning to read situations, be kind of astute observers of our context, reflecting on our failures and also our successes in navigating life. That's the way Proverbs suggests that we grow in wisdom that and that's why also in the Bible, the default is older people are wiser than younger people. Why? Because older people have had more experiences and they've learned from more mistakes than younger people. The only problem with that is that there's not a problem with the Bible's view. The problem is with old people who do not think or learn from their experiences and their mistakes. So the three friends and Job, for instance, are not wise as they apply true principles to the wrong situation.
Audience Member 1 [00:38:16] I just wondered if you had any comments on that same thing. I don't want to be the dead.
Tremper Longman III [00:38:20] Horse, but according to.
Audience Member 1 [00:38:23] My Bible, Daniel made up his mind that he would not defile himself. So what do you make of that word? Defile? It sounds a little.
Tremper Longman III [00:38:32] Bit harder to say. He just they tried.
Audience Member 1 [00:38:36] To make room for God to be able.
Tremper Longman III [00:38:39] To, you know. Yeah. No. And and, you know, speaking honestly, that is the strongest argument against the view that I presented. Defiled does suggest something more religious like keeping kosher. I all I can say is because of the reasons that I pointed out, the temporary nature of the refusal to eat anything but vegetables and drink water, etc.. Yeah. Yeah. So, so I think that and then I think since he determined that this is what God was calling him to do in this situation, that to not do it would be a form of defilement. This is the same question. Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. Good questions. I mean, I yes, By the way, I should point out that, um. Yeah, this might be a good point for me to talk about per security of Scripture, which is a fancy way of talking about the Reformation assertion that Scripture is clear. Theologians tend to use Latinate multi syllabic words to communicate something that could be easily expressed by a simple word. But, you know, over against some Catholic ideas that, you know, we need a professional priestly mediator to understand scripture. Protestants have said, you know, I mean, Christians, whether they're, you know, ordained or not, can understand scripture. However, sometimes Protestants over do that, especially evangelical Protestants. And when somebody does do that, by the way, with me and it's happened before when I've talked about Genesis one and two and how important it is to know something about the ancient areas and background, when you travel, when you try to understand the message there. I remember one person saying, I don't need your ancient or eastern background, I just need my Bible. And I say to them, Oh, really? You know, the Bible is written in Hebrew and Greek, you know, Hebrew and Greek and you know that. And Bill well, I think agree with me about this by the time you read your English Bible. We scholars have made tens of thousands of interpretive decisions, beginning with Genesis one one. You know, in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, period. Now the earth was formless and void. Or in the beginning, when God created the heavens and the earth, comma, the earth was formless and void. So what I often remind them is actually what the Westminster Confession of Faith says about the persecution of Scripture, which is interestingly begins by saying not all things in Scripture are like clear in and of themselves, but those matters that are important for salvation are taught so frequently and in so many ways, and that basically it's saying those things that are essential for salvation are clear. But exactly how defile is to be understood. And Danny, one is open to discussion, are exactly what the Daniel as three friends are doing there. So I've always felt it was important for interpreters like myself, to be honest about, you know, where we're absolutely sure about an interpretation where there's room for discussion and we shouldn't grow worried about that because what's really important is absolutely clear.
Audience Member 1 [00:42:49] And there's a sense of mystery with God.
Tremper Longman III [00:42:52] Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah. Absolutely.
Audience Member 1 [00:42:55] So our faith and interpretation of the Bible also involves enough mystery that we can all sense.
Tremper Longman III [00:43:03] Yeah. Yeah, I agree on that. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. It's really fascinating to me that, you know, in the Old Testament, when it teaches about God, it uses metaphor and simile. You know, like God is a king. God is a shepherd. God is a warrior. God is a rock. And metaphors teach certain things. I mean, teach clearly. But then there comes to be a gray area. When you say, what does it mean that God's a shepherd and some 23, you know, clarify some things. He guides us. He protects us. But that's not like a shepherd in every way. So when you unpack a metaphor like that, it leaves an area that I attribute to the intention of also communicating what you're calling the mystery of God. We come away with adequate, more than adequate true understanding of who God is. But there's, you know, still, we don't want to feel like we ever completely understand who God is.