Over the last few weeks our readings have been from some of the books which are not in the bibles which we normally use, and this morning’s reading is from a book called, “Bel and the Dragon”. This book has stories from the time that a large number of the Israelites were exiles in Babylon. To understand this story it helps to know that the Babylonians had a number of gods, and Bel was a name that they gave to their chief god. Bel is probably better known to most of us by the Hebrew name, “Baal”.
Last week’s reading was also from Bel and the Dragon when we read the part of the story in which Daniel showed that Bel was a false god. The king then allowed Daniel to destroy the statue of Bel and its temple.
Most depictions which archaeologists have found show Bel along with a dragon. This dragon looks rather similar to the dragons that we see in pictures of St George and the dragon. However, Bel’s dragon was very important to the Babylonians, and they revered and worshiped a living creature which they described as a dragon.
Let us now read from Bel and the Dragon, verses 23 to 42.
23 Now in that place there was a great dragon, which the Babylonians revered.
24 The king said to Daniel, ‘You cannot deny that this is a living god; so worship
25 Daniel said, ‘I worship the Lord my God, for he is the living God.
26 But give me permission, O king, and I will kill the dragon without sword or club.’ The king said, ‘I give you permission.’
27 Then Daniel took pitch, fat, and hair, and boiled them together and made cakes, which he fed to the dragon. The dragon ate them, and burst open. Then Daniel said, ‘See what you have been worshipping!’
28 When the Babylonians heard about it, they were very indignant and conspired against the king, saying, ‘The king has become a Jew; he has destroyed Bel, and killed the dragon, and slaughtered the priests.’
29 Going to the king, they said, ‘Hand Daniel over to us, or else we will kill you and
30 The king saw that they were pressing him hard, and under compulsion he handed Daniel over to them.
31 They threw Daniel into the lions’ den, and he was there for six days.
32 There were seven lions in the den, and every day they had been given two human bodies and two sheep; but now they were given nothing, so that they would devour Daniel.
33 Now the prophet Habakkuk was in Judea; he had made a stew and had broken bread into a bowl, and was going into the field to take it to the reapers.
34 But the angel of the Lord said to Habakkuk, ‘Take the food that you have to
Babylon, to Daniel, in the lions’ den.’
35 Habakkuk said, ‘Sir, I have never seen Babylon, and I know nothing about the den.’
36 Then the angel of the Lord took him by the crown of his head and carried him by his hair; with the speed of the wind he set him down in Babylon, right over the den.
37 Then Habakkuk shouted, ‘Daniel, Daniel! Take the food that God has sent you.’
38 Daniel said, ‘You have remembered me, O God, and have not forsaken those who love you.’
39 So Daniel got up and ate. And the angel of God immediately returned Habakkuk to his own place.
40 On the seventh day the king came to mourn for Daniel. When he came to the den he looked in, and there sat Daniel!
41 The king shouted with a loud voice, ‘You are great, O Lord, the God of Daniel, and there is no other besides you!’
42 Then he pulled Daniel out, and threw into the den those who had attempted his destruction, and they were instantly eaten before his eyes.
Now let us all, including those of you at home who are listening to the CD, come before God in prayer. Let us all pray:
Living God, we have come here today to worship you because you are not like the false gods that the Babylonians worshiped. Your wisdom and power are far greater than anything that we can imagine, and we acknowledge that you alone are the source of everything, life itself, and all that is needed to sustain it. You provide for all our needs; our food, our shelter, and all our material goods come from the resources which you have given us. You are truly amazing!
Lord, the stories about Daniel tell us that you kept him safe in extreme situations, because he had remained faithful to you, and had refused to worship the false Babylonian gods. Daniel’s faith was strong, but sometimes we falter, and our faith is weak. There are times when we are even reluctant to admit to others that we are Christians, and we fail to follow your Son’s teaching and example.
We confess that we can be lazy and thoughtless, and too readily we ignore the possible consequences of our actions on others. We forget that that everything we do can have an impact on people, both here in our own country, and also on the other side of the world. Many people live in poverty and lack even the basic necessities of life, but we continue in our selfish and wasteful ways.
Merciful God, forgive us for all our shortcomings. Send your Spirit to help us to follow in your ways, and to help us to make good and careful use of all that you have provided for us. Teach us to do what we can to share all that you have given us with others who are less fortunate, and help us to do our part to protect the world that you have given us.
Loving God, we praise and thank you for all the amazing things that you have done; for your continuing care of us, and for your support which sustains all of your creation.
You have given us everything, and when we think about it we realise that it is impossible for us to count all the blessings that we have already received, and those that you continue to give us.
We thank you that you are always with us, even when we are not expecting your presence. In our reading you unexpectedly sent Habakkuk to Daniel when he was in the lion’s den, and Daniel realised that you had not abandoned him.
You come to us in many ways, and often when we least expect you. Sometimes it is through the help and kindness of our family and friends, but at other times you use the actions of strangers. May we always be alert for these unexpected encounters, and may we be assured that you are always with us.
Father God, we especially thank you that Jesus, through his teaching and example, showed us that you are a loving, caring and forgiving god. You are always ready to listen to us, to forgive us, and to let us have a fresh start. We thank you that we do not need to be burdened by our guilt, but that we can be forgiven and start afresh.
Lord, you know that in our world today there is much misery and sorrow, and there are many disputes and conflicts. Some of these are national or international, and we pray that those with influence and authority will be willing to try to find ways of bringing peace to the troubled areas of the world.
But there are sometimes arguments and quarrels in families or between neighbours. Help us to remember that Jesus told us that the peacemakers will be blessed, and give us the courage to take the first steps to bring an end to our disputes and quarrels. You know that we find this difficult; it is not an easy thing for us to do, and we ask for your strength to overcome our fear and embarrassment.
Compassionate God, we are all aware of people who are finding life difficult. Their needs are many and varied. Some may be grieving for a loved one, some may be ill in mind or body or have a family member who is ill, some may be finding it difficult to make, or to sustain, a relationship, and some may have suffered hurt by the actions of others. Lord, you know all these people, and we ask that your Spirit will comfort and bring healing to all those in distress.
We offer this our prayer in the name of Jesus, and we further pray in the words which he taught his followers:
Our Father, which art in Heaven, hallowed be Thy Name.
Thy kingdom come
Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven
Give us this day our daily bread
And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors
And lead us not into temptation
But deliver us from evil
For Thine is the kingdom, the power, and the glory, forever. Amen
Let us now join in singing Hymn 645: “I’m not ashamed to own my Lord”