Daniel’s Spirit of the Gods: The Spirit’s Work in UsAuthor: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Daniel, Discipleship, Hebrew Bible, Holy Spirit, Spiritual Disciplines
“All Spiritual life is the result of the indwelling Holy Spirit.”
— K. C. Moser
My recent reading through Daniel in our daily readings has led to some meditation on the work of the Holy Spirit and living faithfully with God in a pagan environment. Following R. L. Whiteside’s advice in 1923, I let it “season” for a season.
I believe God’s Spirit was far more active among ordinary Israelites in the Hebrew Bible than modern believers dream or imagine. I also think Daniel provides something of a model of living out a Holy Spirit life in an alien culture.
I noticed in my recent reading a string of seven references to a spirit or the spirit of the gods in the life of Daniel spread over a significant portion of his life in exile. A number of these references are in the Aramaic portion of Daniel (Daniel is written in Hebrew and Aramaic).
What is interesting to me is there is no language in Daniel that says to the effect “the Spirit came on him,” or Daniel was “anointed” (the Greek version does however especially in reference to Susanna). It is through “normal” life that the Spirit was working and bringing forth fruit in Daniel. That is there were no flash points as far as the story goes. He cultivated a life of discipline before the God of Israel and over time he grew in the man recognized by all as one who was endowed with “a spirit of the gods.” Sometimes we are so addicted to and associate the Spirit with the spectacular that we miss the Spirit in the ordinary mundane rhythms of life. Indeed it seems his goal of transformation is best served in the mix of the routine. I find this encouraging because my life is pretty ordinary!
Daniel Educated to be a Scholar
The story begins in Daniel’s commitment to God while in land of Mordor! The Spirit works in and thru Daniel’s commitment.
This takes hard work! Daniel, and his companions, were chosen to be slaves in Nebuchadnezzar court. There was the usual handsome requirement (1.4) but those chosen were to be among the best educated Israel had. Daniel becomes a full fledged scholar. He masters Babylonian literature and language (1.4-6). They were already “versed in every branch of wisdom, endowed with knowledge and insight” (1.4). Daniel was not just anyone but had received a significant education while in his native land.
Well versed or not, Daniel and his friends, were required to go to graduate school in Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar ordered that they be trained in Aramaic (language of Babylon) and literature of the Empire. So Daniel entered the Babylonian equivalent of Harvard “to be educated for three years” (1.5).
Imagine Daniel pouring over lexical lists learning to read cuneiform. Soaking up Gilgamesh. Pondering the Poem of a Righteous Sufferer. Memorizing the Babylonian proverbs and laments. They would learn the ins and outs of the Enuma Elish. Babylonian literature is vast and rich … and Daniel studied it long before archeologists dug it up and fundamentalist teachers decided you should never read anything.
Daniel’s Commitment to Humbly Learn
I recall many years ago at IBC sitting in an English literature class when a Bible major classmate voiced an opinion that was shared by half the class apparently. I have never forgotten the question. “Dr. Wheeler, why do I need to know this stuff? Why waste time on this? All I need is the word of God.”
Watching David Letterman’s interviews with college students on the streets reminds us that because you go to college or get a degree does not mean a person has learned anything. Sadly many, even those wanting be leaders among God’s people, do what is necessary to “pass” a test. They do not seek to cultivate disciplines that will deepen and enrich the life lived.
But Daniel did not seek to make a passing grade. Daniel did not set out to get a career that would make money. We are told instead that Daniel had two goals: gain understanding and live humbly before the God of Israel. “[F]rom the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before God” (10.12).
Daniel’s discipline resulted in God giving him knowledge and skill in “EVERY aspect of literature and wisdom” (1.17). Daniel was not afraid of the Epic of Gilgamesh nor did he ever say that study hindered his walk with God. Rather the Spirit rewarded his study! Daniel and his friends were recognized as better scholars than the natives!
The Spirit sometimes has rocky soil … resistant soil … to work with however.
Daniel’s Commitment to a Simple Lifestyle
Daniel’s humility before the Lord is readily apparent in his rejection of a luxurious lifestyle that was ultimately rooted in injustice. Even as a slave, Daniel and his companion exiles were given the opportunity to share in the extravagance of the Empire. The pagan king assigned sumptuous portions from his table to be given to the four Jewish slaves (1. 5).
“But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the royal rations of food and wine” (1.8) . There is nothing in the text that would indicate this was unclean food like pigs. Daniel and his friends reject the food not because they are ascetics or because it is unclean but because it is from a table that is enriched by injustice. Daniel will later tell the king, sounding like gentler Amos,
“atone for your sins with righteousness, and your iniquities with mercy to the oppressed, so that your prosperity may be prolonged” (4.27).
Daniel embraced a simple lifestyle evidenced by his diet of veggies and water (1.8-16). It was a conscious decision to be countercultural in a radically pagan environment to not be dependent upon the machinery of the Empire but upon the God of heaven to take care of his needs. And the Lord “allowed Daniel to receive favor” in light of his radical but simple commitment.
Daniel’s Commitment to Worship
Daniel’s quiet and rather ordinary routine included the practice of prayer and praise. Though there is no indication that Daniel was ostentatious in displaying his piety people seemed to know this was a core rhythm in his life. After Darius became the ruler of the universe, so to speak, the cadence of Daniel’s life even became the means for trapping him by the pagans. Daniel would have his window,
“open toward Jerusalem, and get down on his knees three times a day to pray to his God and praise him” (6.10)
Daniel would “seek mercy” during his prayer (6.11). Few things remind us of our creaturely status as praise.
Outsiders Recognize “a Spirit of the Gods”
Daniel’s humility before the Lord and his commitment to learning and understanding allowed God to put him in places that needed a witness to the Most High God. It is interesting that it is in the middle section of the book where Daniel interacts with a pagan king and pagan scholars that we find half a dozen references to the Spirit. These references are almost always from the pagans. They are pagans. They do not know Yahweh. But they recognize in Daniel a “presence” that is a “spirit” that shows he has been endowed by the “gods.” See Daniel 4.8, 9, 18; 5.11-12, 14; 6.3.
“Daniel came before me [Nebuchadnezzar]-he was named Belteshazzar after the name of my god and who is endowned with a spirit of the holy gods...” (4.8)
“O Belteshazzar, chief of the magicians, I know that are endowed with a spirit of the holy gods ...” (4.9)
“You [Daniel] are able, however, for you are endowed with a spirit of the holy gods” (4.18)
“There is a man in your kingdom who is endowed with a spirit of the holy gods … because an excellent spirit … ” (5.11-12)
“I have heard of you that a spirit of the gods is in you …” (5.18)
“Daniel distinguished himself above all the other presidents and satraps because an excellent spirit was in him …” (6.3)
The presence of the Spirit was recognized by those who were “nonbelievers.” While the pagans say he is endowed with a spirit of the gods, the narrator of the book attributes Daniel’s walk in the pagan world to “an excellent Spirit.”
The references to the Spirit that saturate the middle of the book show that Spirit, the ruah, did not work in Daniel despite his education but because of it. The rhythm of simplicity, dedication to learning (being a disciple), and praise nurtured soil in Daniel that was ideal for the Spirit of God to work.
The ruah uses Daniel’s commitment and discipline to nurture knowledge and wisdom. The story explicitly connects these.
“Soon Daniel distinguished himself above all the other presidents and satraps BECAUSE AN EXCELLENT SPIRIT WAS IN HIM …” (6.3f)
The River of the Spirit in Daniel’s Life
The text then mentions his “faithfulness.”
1) commitment to God choosing simplicity over luxury
2) setting the mind to learn literature and language … that is scholarship
3) consciously cultivating a rhythm of daily prayer and praise
3) faithfulness to these goals
4) found the Spirit cultivating these very things for life in Mordor.
A lifetime of cultivating the discipline of simplicity (refusing the food from the pagan king) and the discipline of study to understand literature revealed in Daniel’s life that the excellent Spirit was there all along. The Spirit did not work because Daniel chose laziness. The ruah worked in Daniel’s discipline to produce a person that was a blessing even to nonbelievers.
I am excited that Daniel was a full fledged scholar. I am delighted to know such scholarship let other people recognize God’s “excellent spirit” in him (the pagans call it “a spirit of the gods”). The ruah loves scholarship that seeks wisdom and understanding. As we humble ourselves in prayer and worship we are transformed by God’s own Spirit. As Jack Lewis once said in class, “ignorance is not a fruit of the spirit.”
Could it be that part of the struggle in Churches of Christ today results from a lack of what Daniel and his friends committed themselves:
Scholarship/Commitment to learn?
Mastering the literature of Mordor?
Becoming fluent in the language?
Adopting something like the “daily office” for prayer and praise?
Cultivating these as Spiritual disciplines …
Coupled with “humility” so that even pagans recognize that Excellent Spirit in us? Spiritual growth does not happen by accident. Spiritual maturity does not normally happen by osmosis. If we are seeking a richer, deeper, transforming us into the image of Christ relationship, then perhaps the Daniel way can help us to be open to God’s Excellent Spirit working in the open and receptive soil of our lives.
I do not feel bad, now, having spent so much time reading Gilgamesh
So here is the question for us today … do our contemporary pagans recognize an “excellent spirit” in us? Even if they have no way of articulating correctly a notion of the Holy Spirit do they still perceive “a spirit of the gods” in us? If not, why not?