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Vol. XIV, July 2008

 

“The angel… carried him off by the hair to Babylon” (Dan 14:36)

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

At the end of the Book of Daniel, with its many references to the angels, especially to Sts. Gabriel and Michael, we find a special angelic intervention in the life of Daniel himself. It reads like a summary of the entire book. It reveals his personality and the gifts he received from God. Daniel manifests once more his gifts of wisdom and counsel and shows himself to be a great confessor of the one true God who created heaven and earth. His fidelity was tried once more, practically to the point of martyrdom; he would willingly have preferred to give up his life rather than renounce his faith in God. At the end he said, “You have kept me in mind, O God; You have not deserted those who love You” (Dan 14:38). Let us look at this “summary” of this Angel-book of the Old Testament.

1. Another trial

As with the former kings (cf. e.g. 6:1; Circ. XIII, Aug. 07), “Daniel was very close to king Cyrus of Persia, who respected him more than any of his other friends.” However, while Daniel remained faithful to Yahweh alone, the king venerated and worshiped every day “an idol called Bel, to which twelve bushels of the finest flour, forty sheep and six measures of wine were offered every day” (v. 3). Daniel told the king “I do not worship idols made by human hands, (but) … the living God who made heaven and earth and who is Lord over all living creatures.” The king, surprised by this attitude of Daniel, wanted to find the truth. Daniel showed him by means of his gifts from God, the lie of the seventy priests of Bel, “the secret door through which they used to come and take what was on the table” (v. 21).

Not enough! There was then “a great dragon which the Babylonians worshiped, too. The king said to Daniel, ‘Are you going to tell me that this is made of bronze [like the statue of Bel]? Look, … if this is a living god; then worship it.’ Daniel replied, ‘I will worship the Lord my God; He is the living God. With your permission, Your Majesty, without using either sword or club, I shall kill this dragon.’ ‘You have my permission,’ said the king. Whereupon, Daniel took some pitch, some fat and some hair and boiled them up together, rolled the mixture into balls and fed them to the dragon; the dragon swallowed them and burst. Daniel said, ‘Now look at the sort of thing you worship!’” (14:23-27).

Cyrus was a sincere and religious person, seeking to serve the real God. In our search for God we often rely on the testimony of others. To accept and follow the words of others is different from human respect. Thus the king accepted the proof of Daniel against his own belief and that of the Babylonians. But “the Babylonians were furious … they pressed the king so hard that he found himself forced to hand Daniel over to them. They threw Daniel into the lion pit, and there he stayed for six days. In the pit were seven lions, which were given two human bodies and two sheep every day; but for this period they were not given anything, to make sure they would eat Daniel” (14:28-32).

It happened, then, that “on the seventh day, the king came to lament over Daniel; on reaching the pit he looked inside, and there sat Daniel. ‘You are great, O Lord, God of Daniel,’ he exclaimed, ‘there is no god but You!’ He then had Daniel released from the pit and the plotters of Daniel’s ruin thrown in instead, where they were instantly eaten before his eyes” (14:40-42).

Cyrus was sincerely searching for the truth, for the real God. He was willing to kill one who deceived him in this matter. Nevertheless, besides having had revealed to him the lies of the priests of Bel, and besides the death of the dragon, the king acted fearfully and handed Daniel over to the Babylonians. Pilate in his turn would treat Jesus in a similar fashion, notwithstanding the fact that he had a certain esteem for Jesus. He says, “Behold, the man!” with some sort of admiration: This is a man! And yet, under the pressure of men, he gave in and “he delivered Jesus up to their will” (Lk 23:25).

2. Daniel’s unwavering fidelity to God
Daniel showed not just righteousness like Tobit, but unwavering fidelity to God, like Job: “In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong” (Job 1:22).

a) Daniel’s sanctity

He refused to adore any idol, like the statue of Bel, but adored the One God of Israel alone, allowing no other at His side: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage. ‘You shall have no other gods before Me’” (Ex 20:2-3).

He did not compromise his love for God out of human respect, out of concern for what others might think: “Beware of practicing your piety before men in order to be seen by them; for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. … [For] no one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.” (Mt 6:1,24)

He did not fear suffering and persecutions which Jesus foretold would happen to all His disciples (as to all the Saints, cf. Jn 16:19-25; 16:1-4). In fact, the Babylonians threw him into the pit of the lions. His love for God was stronger than every other concern. He gave testimony of deep faith. He openly confessed his confidence in God. “‘I worship the living God who made heaven and earth and who is lord over all living creatures’” (14:5). “‘I will worship the Lord my God; He is the living God” (14:25).

He surrendered his nothingness confidently into the hands of almighty God: I am nothing, but God is with me (cf. Jer 1)! St. Paul later expresses saying: “For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong … even though I am nothing” (2 Cor 12:10-11). This it is what God expects and rewards with His loving care:

This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him, and saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them. O taste and see that the Lord is good!” (Ps 34:6-8)

And another one:

And I tell you, every one who acknowledges Me before men, the Son of man also will acknowledge before the angels of God; but he who denies Me before men will be denied before the angels of God. (Lk 12:8-9; cf. 9:26)

Daniel confessed his faith in the One God of Israel, and won by that act for God the heart of Cyrus. God sent him help through an angel.

b) God’s answer through the angel’s intervention

While Daniel was peacefully with the lions, “the angel of the Lord spoke to (Habakuk), ‘Take the meal you are carrying to Babylon, and give it to Daniel in the lion pit.’ ‘Lord,’ replied Habakuk, ‘I have not even seen Babylon and know nothing about this pit.’ The angel of the Lord took hold of his head and carried him off by the hair to Babylon where, with a great blast of his breath, he set Habakuk down on the edge of the pit. ‘Daniel, Daniel,’ Habakuk shouted, ‘take the meal that God has sent you.’ …Rising to his feet, he ate the meal, while the angel of God carried Habakuk back in a moment to his own country” (14:34-37,39).

God did not lose sight of Daniel. Daniel’s fidelity moved God to give order to His angel, so that Daniel might once more confess God before man, to Cyrus. “Daniel said, ‘You have kept me in mind, O God; You have not deserted those who love You’” (v. 38).

This “angel of the Lord” here may or may not have been the same angel who appears again and again in the life of Daniel. The Angel does not intervene unilaterally. He goes to the prophet Habakuk in the homeland of Juda and enlists his help. The prophet is a human collaborator in an angelic mission and a witness to the divine assistance afforded Daniel, for alone Habakuk could do nothing for Daniel who was hundreds of miles away. The angel took him by the hair and whisked him back and forth between Juda and Babylon.

It was already a miraculous intervention to keep those hungry lions from devouring Daniel. Scripture does not even mention this directly, but only by the fact of Daniel’s salvation and the subsequent graphic description of how the lions ravenously devoured Daniel’s enemies, who for their treachery were themselves thrown into the pit. It may sound strange, that God bothered to provide a meal for Daniel, but recall he had already been in the lions’ pit for seven days. God provides the necessities of life for His faithful friends through the holy angels. He is not to be outdone in fidelity.

3. Examples for us to follow

a) We can easily identify with each of the three protagonists: Daniel, Habakuk and the angel. Daniel is the faithful servant of the community, exposed to the machinations of a world at odds with godliness. Habakuk too is a transparent holy prophet who has placed his hope wholly in God and is thereby a docile minister ready to be used. In his otherworldliness he is open and receptive for the coming of the angel. The “angel of the Lord” is also our clear model, faithfully remaining in God’s presence and executing His will.

b) But we can also reflect on Cyrus and his destiny: Cyrus, the leader of the people, is seeking for the truth, for God. He was easily duped by his treacherous servants, but he sincerely sought God. If Daniel had not been there leading a holy life and giving heroic witness to our Lord, Cyrus would not have discovered the light of the true God, he could not have fulfilled his destiny to be a prototype of Christ as the Servant of the Lord.

4. Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

What encouraging examples! When we stand faithfully by God, we have the Almighty “behind” us. Our weakness does not count: We witness to God, and others, if they are sincere, will find Him! The more we speak about God and want to lead souls to His Heart, the more we must recognize our own unimportance: “He must increase, I must decrease!”.

Knowing this, we can be encouraged to teach the faithful and share with them those truths of the faith, which, while disdained by the worldly, are a salvific light to the sincere of heart. Take, for example, the document Dominus Jesus from the year 2000 or Humanae vitae published 40 years ago.

Fr. Titus Kieninger ORC