How did the people of God respond?
The Maccabee family led the violent opposition to Syrian oppression. They were joined by some of the hasidim (holy ones). Around 165 BCE a group of these hasidim warriors sought refuge in a cave to observe the Sabbath, their covenant with God. The Syrian forces discovered them and killed them. The Maccabean-led group cited this massacre as the basis for their decision to fight on the Sabbath to drive out the Seleucids. They continued the fight, eventually gaining control over the land of Israel in 161 BCE. Part of their success was due to a treaty with the Romans who were interested in gaining a foothold in the eastern Mediteranian. The Maccabean family established the Hasmonian dynasty that ruled an area nearly as large as Israel under King David. After a hundred-plus year of independence, they came under the control of the Roman Empire. The apocryphal books of the Maccabees contain an account of this battle for independence, emphasizing how God helped them defeat the Seleucid/Syrian forces and establish their kingdom.
With wisdom and faithfulness:
A prophet of the day did not support their violence, instead he emphasized faithfulness, wisdom, prayer, and trusting God. He recalled how Daniel and his friends in Babylon were blessed for their faithfulness (Dan 1-6). The same writer recalled or experienced the visions (Daniel 7-12) that communicated a powerful awareness that God still controlled the fate of crazy kings and evil kingdoms. I call this writer/editor of Daniel, the wisdom prophet because of his emphasis on living and teaching wisdom.
He was a prophet in the deuteronomic sense: declaring that evil deeds lead to curses and good deeds lead to blessings (Dt. 18). He recalled the stories of Daniel and his friends to provide a model of faithfulness to God and to encourage the teaching and practice of wisdom. He challenged the revolutionaries to see that God’s people have remained faithful to God under oppression. The remained faithful without state violence or revolutionary violence to defend and protect the faith.
The wisdom prophet spoke also to the Hellenizing Jews of Judea calling them to faithfulness by recalling how the Jews in Babylon remained true to the faith. Further, he showed that this faithfulness brought gentiles and their rulers to recognize the true God. The role of the state was an important issue between the Maccabees and others of their era. The Hellenizers and the traditionalists clash over the appointment to the office of high priest led to the murder of one of the candidates, Onias II (the “anointed one” of Dan 9.26). Once in control the Maccabeans/Hasmoneans combined the office of king and high priest.
The Babylonian stories also showed how mad and crazy rulers were toppled by God’s hand. Through the visions of smashed statues, rams, bears, leopards and the ancient of days he assured the Jews that they could serve God with confidence in the final outcomes. God would punish the evildoers without the need for human participation.
Those insisting that through violence the Jews should defend the faith saw Phineas (Numbers 25:7) as a hero and were willing to kill fellow Jews who opposed them. The wisdom prophet chose Daniel and friends as heroes. The wisdom prophet used Daniel as a eponym/pseudonym because of the Maccabeans willingness to kill Jews who opposed them.
We can read the “children’s story” of Daniel in the lion’s den in the context of the ethical issues of the day. Placing it near the center of the book of Daniel, the wisdom prophet shows Daniel willing trust God to care for him, just to pray three times a day. The Maccabees were not willing to take that risk even to preserve the covenant sign of the Sabbath rest. In another “children’s story”, the fiery furnace rescue, the wisdom prophet derides the view that king and high priest, state and religion should be combined. The statue on the Plain of Dura and the humorous worship scene there illustrates the wisdom prophet’s view of what happens when religion and state are combined. The testimony of Daniel’s friends and the furnace scene contrasts with the Maccabees unwillingness to let God fight for them.
The wisdom prophet pokes fun at the Babylon view that the food offered to idols could make one wise (chapter 1). All of the first six chapters contain an element of humor, especially chapter six with the idea that one could have a “god for a month”. (See my blog https://uplandweb.wordpress.com/2017/11/05/laughing-at-leadersrespecting-leaders-two-biblical-perspectives/ )
With trust in God
The conclusion of the stories in the first half of Daniel complements the visions of the second half. God’s people can be faithful without the support of the state or revolutionary violence because God is in control. The visions portray the wisdom prophet’s certainty that God controls history. (Looking at the numbers in the visions as symbols emphasizing certainty obviates the need for the complicated calculations favored by the “calendarizers”.) Humans do not need to deviate from their primary responsibility. The wise live faithfully, teach wisdom and give their lives for others (chapters 11 & 12).
The reflection of the Isaiah servant songs in 12:1-4 presages the joining of the suffering servant motif with the divine warrior motif (seen with the Ancient of Days in ch. 10) in the person of Jesus. The faithful wise are willing to give their lives, perhaps for the salvation of others.
The wisdom prophet shows us Daniel who prayed before the challenges of interpreting a dream when he first had to tell the crazy king the dream details before giving the interpretation (ch. 2). The wisdom prophet risked death in the den of lions to pray three times a day (ch. 6). His prayer of confession led to the angelic assurance that “God would fight for [them]”. (Ch 10). He fasted and prayed before the vision of the last times(Ch 11).
Jesus and the wisdom prophet
Scholars disagree about the Essenes’ (a first century religious group) influence on Jesus. One scholar suggests that the writer/editor of Daniel was the founder of the Essenes who withdrew to the desert to preserve their way of holiness and peace. By whatever avenue first century Judaism influenced him; Jesus words and deeds raised questions about the violence of the Maccabees. Did Jesus choose the Son of Man title to align himself with the nonviolent resistance of the wisdom prophet? Was Jesus claim to be the “light of the world” against the backdrop of the Feast of Dedication (Hanukkah) in John 10 a provocation for the plot to kill Jesus? Can we view Jesus claim to be the good shepherd who gives his life for his sheep as a commentary on the claims of the Maccabees/Hasmonians to be “shepherds?” The debate following the healing on the Sabbath (in Mark 3) contains an echo of the dispute between the Wise and the Maccabeans. Jesus asks whether it is appropriate to kill on the Sabbath. Finally, when the Maccabeans recaptured Jerusalem, Judas Maccabeus rode a white horse into Jerusalem. In his entry into Jerusalem, Jesus chose to ride a donkey.
Next: Part III, Daniel for today