Last year I had the best calling in the Church: Gospel Doctrine teacher, during study of the Old Testament. I wrote out fairly detailed notes for each lesson and figured I’d post some of them here in case they’re helpful to a future teacher.
Daniel is another story that takes place in exile – earlier than Esther, in Babylon. We’re pretty familiar with these stories, so I’ll briefly summarize.
Chapter 1 – good eating
King Nebuchadnezzar requests that some of the children of Israel live in his palace, learn their language and history, etc. Four of these were named Hananiah, Mishael, Azariah, and Daniel. For some reason, Daniel keeps his Hebrew name in the Bible while the other three are referred to by their Babylonian names (v. 7):
Hananiah – Shadrach
Mishael – Meshach
Azariah – Abed-nego
Daniel – Belteshazzar
Food was provided to them. We sometimes use this story as a Word of Wisdom tale, but it’s not that they were smoking and drinking coffee. They were eating food considered by Jews to be ritually impure (probably because it had been sacrificed to idols). v. 8 – Daniel didn’t want to defile himself. Still, there are some obvious parallels – they were setting themselves apart by their diet.
v. 10 – prince of the eunuchs is worried that they will get skinny and it will reflect poorly on him (you “endanger my head to the king”)
They propose a short test. They’ll eat vegetarian and drink only water for 10 days and then the prince of the eunuchs can determine if they’re better off with their own diet.
v. 17 – Reminiscent of the Word of Wisdom here, because they are blessed with knowledge and wisdom, blessings beyond just health.
Boyd K. Packer – “As valuable as the Word of Wisdom is as a law of health, it may be much more valuable to you spiritually than it is physically.”
How can we avoid assimilation with Babylon?
We’ll skip Chapter 2 today and go over it in depth next week. It’s so good it gets its own lesson.
We’ll come back to Chapter 3 at the end of the lesson.
Chapter 4 – More Dreams, interpreted by Daniel
Daniel interprets more of Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams, which foresee the king’s fall into madness
Chapter 5 – The Writing on the Wall
Nebuchadnezzar’s son Belshazzar takes over the kingdom and starts raiding the storehouse of things that used to be in the temple. While they reveled, a hand appeared and wrote something strange on the wall. He called all the usual wise men to interpret, but none could. The queen tells him about Daniel (v. 12). The king calls him in, offers him money (which Daniel refuses) and Daniel interprets the writing on the wall (v. 25-28). That’s the end of Belshazzar – he dies that night. (This is where the idiom “The writing’s on the wall” comes from.)
Chapter 6 – The Lions’ Den
New king: Darius. Daniel was in a position of power and the king liked him. This made the other leaders jealous and they sought a way to get rid of him. They realized (v. 5) that Daniel’s religion was his big weakness. So, they tricked the king into making an irreversible decree that no one can pray to anyone except the king himself for 30 days. Punishment: lion’s den.
v. 10 – Daniel still prayed to God, three times a day. The bad guys saw him praying and told the king. v. 14 – the king was “sore displeased with himself” and wished he could get Daniel out of it, but that darn decree was irreversible. v. 16 – I have to put you in the lions’ den but hopefully your God will deliver you. They put Daniel in and sealed the exit.
The king had a rough night – couldn’t sleep, eat or listen to music. He got up early and rushed down to the lion’s den.
Then the king made another decree, irreversible in a different way, that the guys who tricked him into trying to harm Daniel should be thrown into the same den of lions. v. 24 – “and the lions had mastery of them” before they even hit the ground.
Darius sent out another decree that worshiping Daniel’s God was a good idea for everyone.
What’s the message of this story?
Chapter 3 – The Furnace – “But If Not”
King Nebuchadnezzar sets up a 90-foot golden idol and gathered all the people together to see it. At the sound of the music, everyone had to bow and worship it. Punishment for non-compliance: death by fiery furnace. Everyone bowed except three young men: Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego. They get ratted out by some people who have it in for the Jews. The king is furious and calls for them. He gives them one more chance (v. 15) – when the music plays, you guys better bow or it’s off the to furnace.
v. 16 – “we are not careful to answer thee” means “we don’t need to defend ourselves” or “we don’t need to answer you”. Bold words.
And here’s the key part of the story for me, vv. 17-18. Our God will deliver us, but if not we will still not serve thy gods.
Their response gives us something to think about, to evaluate our own faith against that phrase “but if not”.
Elder Neal A. Maxwell said:
“We will [not] always be rescued from proximate problems, but we will be rescued from everlasting death! Meanwhile, ultimate hope makes it possible to say the same three words used centuries ago by three valiant men. They knew God could rescue them from the fiery furnace if He chose. ‘But if not,’ they said, nevertheless, they would still serve Him!” (in Conference Report, Oct. 1994, 45; or Ensign, Nov. 1994, 35).
“But If Not” by Dennis E. Simmons, April 20014 Conference
The three young men quickly and confidently responded, “If it be so [if you cast us into the furnace], our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thine hand.” That sounds like my eighth-grade kind of faith. But then they demonstrated that they fully understood what faith is. They continued, “But if not, … we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.” That is a statement of true faith.
They knew that they could trust God—even if things didn’t turn out the way they hoped. They knew that faith is more than mental assent, more than an acknowledgment that God lives. Faith is total trust in Him.
Faith is believing that although we do not understand all things, He does. Faith is knowing that although our power is limited, His is not. Faith in Jesus Christ consists of complete reliance on Him.
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego knew they could always rely on Him because they knew His plan, and they knew that He does not change. They knew, as we know, that mortality is not an accident of nature. It is a brief segment of the great plan 6 of our loving Father in Heaven to make it possible for us, His sons and daughters, to achieve the same blessings He enjoys, if we are willing.
They knew, as we know, that in our premortal life, we were instructed by Him as to the purpose of mortality: “We will make an earth whereon these may dwell; And we will prove them herewith, to see if they will do all things whatsoever the Lord their God shall command them.”
One with immature faith might be willing to believe as long as God blesses him in the way he thinks God should, as long as the work progresses in a way that makes sense to himself. As long as fellow believers behave a certain way. As long as prophets and leaders don’t show too much human weakness. But what do we do when “but if not” situations happen?
Back to the story
The king is furious and commands the furnace to be stoked to 7 times its normal heat. The guards who open the door die from the burst of heat.
v. 24-25 – the king sees a 4th person on the furnace. King James translation is “like the Son of God”, but the Hebrew is more like “son of the gods” or “a divine being”. In v. 28 he refers to the 4th as an angel. He’s impressed by the deliverance and makes a decree that anyone who disses these three will be cut up. The three are promoted.
How will we respond when living our religion becomes more difficult?
All of these stories showcase people who showed courage and faith to do what was right, even at the risk of their own lives.
Dennis E. Simmons – April 2004 General Conference
Our God will deliver us from ridicule and persecution, but if not. … Our God will deliver us from sickness and disease, but if not… . He will deliver us from loneliness, depression, or fear, but if not. … Our God will deliver us from threats, accusations, and insecurity, but if not. … He will deliver us from death or impairment of loved ones, but if not, … we will trust in the Lord.
Our God will see that we receive justice and fairness, but if not. … He will make sure that we are loved and recognized, but if not. … We will receive a perfect companion and righteous and obedient children, but if not, … we will have faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, knowing that if we do all we can do, we will, in His time and in His way, be delivered and receive all that He has.
Thomas S. Monson –
The world can at times be a frightening place in which to live. The moral fabric of society seems to be unraveling at an alarming speed. None—whether young or old or in-between—is exempt from exposure to those things which have the potential to drag us down and destroy us. Our youth, our precious youth, in particular, face temptations we can scarcely comprehend. The adversary and his hosts seem to be working nonstop to cause our downfall.
We are waging a war with sin, my brothers and sisters, but we need not despair. It is a war we can and will win. Our Father in Heaven has given us the tools we need in order to do so. He is at the helm. We have nothing to fear. He is the God of light. He is the God of hope. I testify that He loves us—each one.