Everybody loves a good story, and Scripture has some of the best. Try to read through the story of Esther without laughing at the ironies. Try to read through the account of the man born blind (John 9) without crying. Or even better, trying reading out loud through a story with dialogue like Daniel 2, 3, or 5. Grab a friend, assign parts; read it like a play. Scripture is not only the word of the Living God; it’s incredible literature!
The biblical stories are already naturally so exciting we sometimes forget to carefully think through the point. That’s because we tend to fall into something called “moralizing.” Moralizaing is when we read a narrative account and our default conclusion is something like “be like Moses” or “don’t be like Rahab.” It’s not exactly wrong, but it completely misses the point and genius of the Bible’s story. Take, for instance, the well-known story of Daniel and his three friends refusing the king’s meat (Daniel 1). “Daniel purposed in his heart not to eat the king’s meat” and so he was greatly blessed.
So what’s the point of the story? On an especially bad day we might come up with something about chosing good nutrition. But even if we avoid that pothole, we’ll probably still focus on Daniel’s courage and how God rewarded him. Daniel was uncompromising. Daniel was courageous. Be like Daniel.
It’s not wrong per se, but it totally falls short.
Because there’s something much bigger going on. In the storyline of Scripture this book falls at the low point of Israel’s history. They were called out as God’s people to become a “light to the nations” who would would flock to them to find out their secret. That secret, of course, would be God’s word. God’s blessings on Israel would draw the nations to Himself.
Instead it has all come to this. They failed. Instead of being a light to the nations they have become a pariah on the earth. The sacred vessels of the temple now sit in the trophy case of a pagan temple to give glory to Nebuchadnezzar. Judging by human appearances, God seems to have completely lost control of the wheel of human history.
And with that background, we meet the true hero of the story. It isn’t Daniel at all. It’s God Himself. He’e working at every point in teh story. It was He who “gave Jehoiakim” into Nebuchadnezzar’s hand (v. 2), “gave Daniel favor and compassion” in the court (v. 9), and “gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom” (v. 17). Even as young teens, the men were “ten times better” than the wisest men of the kingdom (v. 20). This chapter is not about nutrition, diligence or human courage. This is a miracle. The hero of this story is God.
Which brings us to the most exciting part of all. It’s in the final verse; one of those postscripts that we tend to read over like it’s the irrelevant credits of a movie.
“And Daniel was there until the first year of King Cyrus.” (Daniel 1:21)
You wouldn’t just read on, though, if you were a Jew during the exile, or familiar with OT prophecy. Because Cyrus is the king that Isaiah prophesied would send Israel home (Is 44:28–45:1). Later Ezra confirms that Cyrus even returned the stolen temple vessels (Ezra 1:7–8; 5:13–14). God did not forget His people. He completely fulfilled His promises.
What does that have to do with the rest of the story? The following chapters trace Daniel’s promotion to the very pinnacle of the Persian kingdom (Dan 1:19; 2:48–49; 3:29–30; 5:29; 6:1–3, 28). It’s nearly impossible to think that Cyrus would not have known Daniel personally. Nor is it plausible that one of Cyrus’s most important policies (returning the refugees to their homes) was made independently of his advisors. In fact, one ancient historian tells us that Cyrus read Isaiah’s prophecy, was amazed by the prediction, and calling for “the most eminent Jews that were in Babylon,” told them to “go back to their own country, and to rebuild their city Jerusalem, and the temple of God” (Josephus, Antiquities, 11.1.2). Daniel could not have been in a more strategic place at a more perfect time.
But all of this was still 70 years in the future. Daniel would live out his days in Babylon first. For the present, all that anyone could see was the fact that God’s people had been defeated, their nation destroyed, and their hope apparently annihilated. Where is God in the midst of a drastic crisis? The answer of Daniel 1 is that God is still working. In fact, even in the middle of judgment and catastrophe, He is already planting the seeds of deliverance and restoration. Decades before Cyrus himself would be born, God was already putting things in place for an upcoming, promised deliverance.
Was Daniel courageous? Yes. Did God bless that? Of course. But the story of Scripture is much bigger than that. The grandest hero of the biblical story is God Himself. By all means, when you read narrative you can be inspired by the heroes. But never miss the big picture view—what God is doing across the ages. And never miss the biggest hero of every story—God Himself. That’s where you’ll find your blessing and hope.