Bell and the dragon vrs 1-22
You can find this reading here
As John mentioned last week. We are looking at what theologians would call deuterocanonical books; religious books written between the Old and New Testament.
Let me give you a bit of background to these books.
The Jewish people were scattered round the known world. And where they went they blended in well. They had a strong work ethic and a high educational ethic, two trends that made sure that wherever they went they did rather well.
Reflected in the joke of the Jewish grandmother who is looking at her newly born
twin grandchildren and she turns to the mother and says, ‘I can’t tell them apart. Tell me...which one is going to be a doctor and which one is going to be the lawyer?’
As the Jews scattered round the world they used whatever language was the common language, But they still wanted to read their scripture, so the scripture was translated into the languages that the people were used to. As Greek was the common language, a big like English today, the Greek version of the Bible became very popular. And in the Greek version was these additions called the deuterocanonical books; written after the Old Testament but before the New Testament.
As Christianity spread the Christians used the Old Testament Bible too as that was their scripture, and the version they used was the Greek version.
When the Jews started to distrust Christianity they insisted that the only version of the Old Testament that was legitimate was the Hebrew version.
So the early church knew of these deuterocanonical books.
However years later when the protestant church was deciding what books it should have in the Bible they decided to go with the Jewish Hebrew Old Testament, which didn't have the deuterocanonical books. And that is why Roman Catholic and Orthodox Bibles often have these books in them and protestant Bibles don’t.
Part of these lost books is a version of Daniel that has additions.
One of thee additions is the story of Susanna that John talked about last week.
The story of Bel we talk about this week, and the story of Daniel and the Dragon we will hear next week.
All that is background, fascinating to me but probably boring to you.
So here is what may not be boring to you.
It is one word...Why?
Why did anyone write this, why did anyone think that this was important?
Let me give you some of the background.
The Jewish people came back from exile and that was supposed to be the start of a brand new era where they would be faithful and the Jewish nation would grow again like it did in the time of David and Solomon the greatest of Jewish kings.
But it didn’t work out that way
Israel was invaded by the Greeks under Alexander the Great. And the Greek influence was huge. Not just the Greek language became dominant, but Greek culture and Greek gods became prevalent.
It’s one thing keeping your culture in a foreign land where you have something to fight against.
It is another if you have been invaded and the culture of your land isn’t your own culture any more; when Greek medicine is better, when Greek infrastructure is better, when Greek education is better, when Greek military tactics are better.
Maybe the Greek way of life is better, maybe their gods are better?
That is the background to these books.
Like John said last week, ‘When things aren’t going well, who do you trust?’
The Jews were struggling to believe that the answer to that question was God.
So the theologians looked to examples of the past to prove that God could be trusted in these tough times.
One of these examples they used was the example of Daniel and Bel, set during the Persian Empire.
Daniel is an advisor to the king and the king is demanding that Daniel worship the god Bel. Daniel tells the king that Bel is no real god. The king insists that it is and has proof. Every day the priests put food out for the god and every night the food is devoured by the god.
We saw that Susanna last week was in an impossible situation, two respected witnesses were testifying against her. But Daniel was smart and split the two witnesses and under separate questioning proved they had made the story up and so saved Susanna.
So Daniel, this week, is in another impossible situation.
Yes, we all know that the god doesn't eat food. But the food does go missing.
Daniel insists that the temple is locked up at night but we know that that isn't enough, the priests have a secret passage so that they can sneak into the Temple and eat the food.
How could Daniel ever win when everything is stacked against him?
Well he puts ash on the ground after the priests have left for the night. So when they use the secret passage the ash is then covered with footprints the next morning and the king knows he has been duped.
The bad guys loose, the good guys win.
It is a message of hope.
And hope is what the people needed to hear.
When people were asking, ‘What was the point of staying faithful when the bad guys are always going to win?’ What could you say?
The temptation for Daniel would be to just give up. When the king said that the proof that Bel existed was he ate the food every night surely the smart thing for Daniel to do was just worship Bel.
But Daniel stayed faithful and he won.
Equally, the Jewish people, occupied by the Greeks were thinking, ‘Why don't we just give up?’
But with Daniels example they could stay faithful because one day they would win.
Couple of things I want to get over.
The first is that we really should read our Bibles.
Because within the Bible are the stories that are an example to us.
To a great extent the American country was built on slavery.
The American constitution may have said that every man had a right to freedom, but to the Americans that only counted if you were a white male.
If you were a slave it could feel as if you would never have equal rights,
But they used the example of the Bible.
They looked at the Jewish people as slaves in Egypt and they believed that one day God would give them freedom as he had given the Jewish people freedom.
And it worked.
It was hard, it was a long journey. But it worked.
How many times have the David's of the world been willing to take on the Goliaths of the world?
And they have done so because once a boy called David took on Goliath, he was their example. If David could do it then so could they.
The Biblical writers didn’t just write for the sake of it, they wrote to give hope to the next generation, and the generation after that, and the generation after that. If God could be with them in the past, help them in impossible situations, so God could be with us in our impossible situations.
Reading scripture gives us the examples that give us hope and keep us faithful.
So read scripture.
The second thing I want to tell you is this.
We all face impossible situations.
They may all look different, but to each of us they seem too big to deal with, too complex to understand, and rigged against us so that we are going to lose.
Our children that can’t get a job because they can’t get past the interview stage.
Parents that don't seem to care and leave us without the support we need.
Friends that get diagnosed suddenly with an illness and they don't seem to know how to cure it.
Being made redundant in your 50’s and you still have half a mortgage to pay.
Or, if you’re my two year old granddaughter, being offered a strawberry ice cream when she wanted a chocolate ice cream.
All our impossible situations seem impossible to us.
All our impossible situations seem too big for us.
And maybe the example of Daniel is that with God’s help and guidance our impossible situations may not be as impossible.
Daniel is confident that no matter what he is facing, God will help him.
So he has a confidence that, in the end, things will work themselves out.
I wonder how much better our life would be if we truly believed that God was with us in every moment.
I had a situation a few weeks back when the first person I went to visit completely ignored me because she was deaf and couldn’t hear me at the window. So I couldn't get in.
The next person I went to visit let me in, then chucked me out within seconds, because she hadn't intended to let me in but one of her carers who was right behind me and was going to give her a bath.
The whole day was like that.
Until I was walking home, and bumped into someone and asked them how they were getting on and I was with them for the next hour in the street just listening to them.
That was where God needed me to be, for them.
Did God ruin my day so that I would be where I needed to be for that person?
Maybe, maybe not.
But I am happy to believe that because I was open in those seconds to the needs of that person, and not sulking at my own misfortune, that I did some good.
That’s definitely a God thing.
Read Scripture, be open to God at all times.
One last thing.
Don’t get disappointed when the big things don’t change the way we want.
The king didn’t change. He was a numpty before this story, he was a numpty after this story. Sometimes the big things don't change. But maybe it’s the little things changing that make a bigger difference.
The empire didn’t suddenly see God was worth following, but that didn’t mean showing up a false god wasn't worth doing.
It maybe that the cancer isn't cured...but that doesn't mean that making someone's day feel better isn’t a victory worth winning.
It may be that the beggar doesn't find a job or a home that day, but that doesn’t mean that giving them a warm soup for today isn't a victory worth winning.
It may be that a friend’s depression isn't lifted from them completely, but that doesn't mean that a smile and moment of hope today isn’t a victory worth winning.
It may be that our children don’t believe today, but that doesn't mean that they are beginning to question their lifestyle isn't a victory worth winning.
We may be small, and our victories may be small, but they give hope.
And with hope slavery is eventually defeated,
doctors eventually find new cures for illness,
politicians eventually make policies that help make our country better.
Who knows, maybe God smiles because he sees our life as a small victory that was worth the sacrifice.
That if we can change our world for the better, if we can change the world of someone else for the better,
even in small ways, then maybe the world has more hope than it thinks.