Daniel 6 and 1-2 Maccabees

One of the major themes of the book of Daniel is resistance to the demands of the empire for Jews to compromise core practices. In Daniel 1 the issue is food, in chapters 3 and 6 the issue is worship. For most Christians, These three chapters in Daniel are some of the most well-known stories in the Old Testament. Both the fiery furnace and the lion’s den are common Sunday School stories. They are re-told over and over again to teach children to stand up for their faith no matter what the consequences, even if second-graders are rarely told they might have to die for their faith.

Daniel in Lion's Den

Daniel actively resists the edit of Darius by continuing his regular practice of praying three times a day (Daniel 6:10). He opens the windows of his upstairs room toward Jerusalem and prays “just as he had always done.” Knowing the decree stipulated anyone not praying to the king would be executed, Daniel openly broke the king’s command and prayed to God. Daniel is arrested and thrown to the lions. Unlike Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in 3:17, Daniel is silent as he accepts the penalty for breaking the decree. He is willing to die rather than pray to the king.

Like the story on Daniel 3, God rescues Daniel from the lions by sending an angel to shut up their mouths (6:22). God vindicates Daniel and finds him innocent and once again a pagan king declares the God of Daniel is the living God who endures forever and his kingdom will endure forever (6:26-27).

Anathea Portier-Young draws a parallel between these two resistance stories to an earlier story of imperial arrogance in Isaiah 36-37 (Apocalypse against Empire, 259). The Assyrians have surrounded Jerusalem with an overwhelming army, so large Jerusalem cannot possibly survive. This point is made absolutely clear by the king’s representative Rabshakeh who speaks directly to the Judeans and informs them Judah’s own king Hezekiah is responsible for the disaster about to fall on them. His own God has sent the Assyrians to punish Hezekiah and Judah, and no one can deliver Jerusalem from the hand of the mighty Assyrian Empire. He says, “Who among all the gods of these lands have delivered their lands out of my hand, that the LORD should deliver Jerusalem out of my hand?” (Isa 36:20). Hezekiah calls out to the Lord and the Lord rescues Jerusalem from certain destruction by sending an angel to destroy the Assyrian army.

This story from Judah’s history sets a pattern followed by the four Judean exiles in Daniel 3 and 6. If they are faithful and do not defile themselves, God may miraculously save them from certain death.

Jewish readers living during the reign of Antiochus IV Epiphanes would have found this familiar. The details of Antiochus’s well-known persecutions are found in 1 and 2 Maccabees as well as Josephus. He attempted to enforce a program of Hellenization on Judeans. In 1 Maccabees 1:29-40 and 2 Maccabees 5:11-27 the Greeks plundered Jerusalem so that “Her sanctuary became desolate like a desert” (1 Macc 1:39).

There were two “paths of resistance” possible in response to the Antiochus’s demands.  One could take up arms, as Matthias and his son Judas did, or one could resist passively and be martyred rather than “profane the holy covenant.”

1 Maccabees 1:62-65 But many in Israel stood firm and were resolved in their hearts not to eat unclean food. 63 They chose to die rather than to be defiled by food or to profane the holy covenant; and they did die. 64 Very great wrath came upon Israel.

Daniel’s style of resistance in Babylon and Persia was not the path chosen by Matthias and those who actively fought against the Greeks in 1 Maccabees 2. In Daniel 3 and 6 Jewish people resistance the empire’s demand for worship and accept the fact they will die when they resist. It is possible the writer of 1 Maccabees considered the revolt sparked Mathias’s zeal as the way God chose to rescue his people. But there is no great miracle as in Isaiah 37 to destroy the Greek army, although 1 Macc 7:41 and 2 Macc 15:22 refer to this event in a prayer asking the Lord to send a “good angel” to strike down Judah’s enemies. Nor do angels appear to rescue Jews who are resisting the worship of Greek gods.  But God did work through the armed rebellion to defeat the Greek and purify the Temple.

Daniel therefore represents a different way to resist for Jews living in the Greek or Roman world. There are clear boundaries and non-negotiable practices. For Judas, it was better to rally the men of Israel to attack the enemy and drive the enemy out of the Land (Joshua style). For Daniel, it is better to resist and die the cross those lines.

Do these two paths of resistance provide a model for contemporary Christian relationship with the state? Is there any warrant for a Christian to follow the path of the Maccabeans and use violence to overthrown an oppressive government? Is the only option for the Christian to “dare to be a Daniel” and resist, suffer and perhaps die?

13 thoughts on “Daniel 6 and 1-2 Maccabees

  1. So many things to think about!

    What is the relationship between Assyria’s retreat and the death of the firstborn in Egypt, if any?

    Do you think the difference in approach to pagan imperialism between Daniel and Maccabees has to do with Daniel’s apocalypticism? Daniel expects God to crush pagab empire in seemingly apocalyptic fashion. Are divine military empowerment (cf. Daivd, Isaiah 11) and apocalyptic judgement incompatible?

    In terms of ethics, how should Christians reconcile these opposite approaches? Would Jesus have rejected the Maccabees?

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  2. While reading this post, one verse came to mind, in Ecclesiastes 3:8 says, “a time to love and a time to hate, a time for war and a time for peace.” I believe there may be several ways of resistance that when we first seek the council of the Lord for wisdom and guidance I do believe the Lord is able to give us revelation of the time and season for certain actions. There may be a time that war is needed and force is use to overthrow within the context of the Holy Spirit guidance. Most times people tend to react with emotions rather than wisdom and discernment. I believe the examples given above, gives us alternations and teachings of how to deal with problems and each having its own solution to its unique outcome. Daniel had the right stage of discipline and attitude when it came to the law of the Medes and Persia of paying petition to the king, he knew they would pass the law and he knew the foul play of the officials that I believe on purpose he broke the law, knowing his God will rescue him and Daniel was not intimated by his surrounding threats.

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  3. Daniel 6 and Maccabees 1-2
    I believe that Daniel is a great example of how Christians should act in any situation that goes against our beliefs. Daniel was bold in his faith. He was not scared to hide his faith in His God. He went home and opened the windows of his house so that he was visible and seen praying to his one true God. In today’s society, I have seen many Christians scared to show their faith and are so quick to hide it from those around them. The King ordered that the people only pray to him, but that did not stop Daniel, or change what he knew was true. Daniel did not act in violence towards the King, but rather in obedience to the Lord. I am sure Daniel knew that his God was more powerful than any earthly king could be. I want to adapt the mindset that Daniel displays through this text. Whenever push comes against my faith, I do not want to crumble in fear and change to the ways of the world, rather I want to stand tall in my faith knowing the God I serve will always be bigger and more powerful than any circumstance I may face. I’m sure there are some people that believe violent action is okay to be taken, but a verse I cling to is Exodus 14:14, “The Lord will fight for you; you need only to be still.” As well as verses reminding me to respect authority: Romans 13:1-7 and 1 Peter 2:11-25. I would have to say I stand with Daniel on this issue. I believe that Christianity is an all or nothing kind of faith. If we do not give 100% of ourselves to Christ, it is all a waste. We should be fully in for Him, since we know who He is and how great, mighty, and powerful He is. Our knowledge of Him should make it easy to be all in for Him.

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  4. The Bible uses examples such as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego being cast into a fiery furnace, Daniel being thrown into a den of Lions, as well as the miraculous deliverance of Israel out of the hand of the massive Assyrian army in Isaiah 37. One can only imagine the terror the inhabitants of Judah must have felt, being utterly trapped by a massive army many times greater than their own. We are told that the Rabshakeh sent by King Sennacherib went to invoke fear in God’s people, taunting them that they would “Eat their own dung and drink their own urine” once they had been defeated by the Assyrians (Isaiah 36:12). However, as we know, this would not be the case. The Lord spoke that it was not simply His servants who had be mocked, but the taunts and jeers of the Assyrian messengers mocked the very God of the universe Himself (Isaiah 37:23). God sent one of His angels who thus destroyed the Assyrian army, killing 185,000 of them (Isaiah 37:36). And although Sennacherib himself escaped this, he was unexpectedly murdered by his own sons shortly after, showing how him and his army stood absolutely no chance against the God of Israel despite their boastings and pride in themselves. The correlation between this story and those recorded in the book of Daniel is that if one commits their way and life to God, you will never be let down. The other important message is this: even when it appears that failure, death or disaster is imminent, with no escape, God will still swiftly come to the aid of those who truly love Him. As to whether or not Christians should use violence to resist danger and harm to themselves, the answer is this will be different and unique for each person in each situation, and that it is between each believer and God to make that decision. However, tools such as prayer and faith in God are and always will be vastly more powerful than man’s created weapons. Hezekiah’s very first reaction was not to immediately begin a slaughter in an attempt to defend the nation against the Assyrians. Instead, his first reaction was to take the letter containing the news of the impeding battle up to the house of the Lord, spread it before God, and pray for help and deliverance (Isaiah 37:14-15). Let this be a lesson to us believers today: before you take matters into your own incapable human hands, place your battles in the hands of God who can deliver miracles for you to overcome them.

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  5. After reading this blog post and seeing both sides of this parallel event when it comes to oppression of our faith, and how we should respond. You have Daniel who complies with the government and helps nebuchadnezzar out with his gift of interpretation. Yet Daniel has no problem with sticking to the non-negotiable practices. It can be seen as a passive way of resistance. Daniel was pulled out of his life at a young age. It would make sense if Daniel wanted to go home and rebel against king nebuchadnezzar, but he complied and helped when he could. Then you have a similar situation in the Maccabees, where they actively resisted against their oppressor
    The question here is whether these two paths of resistance could be a model for us Christians today living in a post-Christian age. My first thoughts after reading this question made me think about how these two events were well over 2000 years ago and the culture has completely changed. Not only has time moved on, but the way Christianity is oppressed has gone through a long journey to get where we are today. After this period in time, Christianity was on the rise and was widely accepted for a long time. Jump to a more recent time in history where a majority of people went to church, but now we live in a post-Christian age. Less than have of American Christians don’t go to church. I say all this because even though we have the freedom to live out our religion, really the only thing resisting us is the judgment of other people, who feel they have to tell you that they’re wrong. When you think about it, we as Christians are doing the same thing. We want them to know the truth that we believe.
    To answer the questions, yes, you can use these as a way to resist. The bottom line should be how strong you will stand on your faith. As long as you are confident in your faith, no one can tell you differently.

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  6. The most incredible part the story in Daniel six (after reading it with new, adult eyes) is that there is never any mention of Daniel “dialing back” his relationship with God, either by praying less or by praying in secret. Rather, he continued to pray “as he had done previously,” with his windows opened and all (Daniel 6:10, ESVSB). He stands in open resistance to the king’s decree; as one of the king’s highest advisors, he is directly breaking a law set by the king. Of course, Daniel’s political rivals knew that Daniel would do this; in fact, they were counting on it; but it still amazes me that Daniel does this with the threat of death looming. Can any American Christian truly claim that they would do the same, should such a law befall the United States? I feel like in this day and age we have grown so comfortable in quietly living out our faith, choosing not to ruffle any feathers by discussing our relationship with Christ openly. If there were an edict that prevented Christians from worshiping, then I fear that America would have a reaction much more in line with the Maccabees, fighting back against their oppressors, praying that God will deliver them from their adversaries.

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  7. IDK. I think of Jesus words to Herod, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were , my disciples would take up arms to defend me, but as it so happens, my kingdom is not of this world.” Additionally the Maccabees had a nation that had been founded by God himself, they believed God wanted to restore it. They were betting their lives on a promise. Whatever conflict we engage in is not rooted in any sort of holy expectation. Even victory over our enemies would not necessarily lead us to a better place.

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  8. This is a very intriguing blog, because there seems to be no right answer to the question posed at the end: Is it better to resist or to overthrow? For one thing, the book of Maccabees is not canonical, and therefore it does not speak to this issue with the same level of authority as, for example, the book of Isiah and Daniel. However, this is a very unsatisfactory approach, and I think it is the easy way out of this conundrum. The fact is, active revolt is actually a proper and fair response in some circumstances–and in certain other ones, of course it is not. But the point is, revolt is not an intrinsically heinous behavior. If the empire is indeed commanding Christians to profane their God, they should react rather violently. But of course this is not always appropriate. Even C.S Lewis agrees with me that war and revolt are rather relative activities. He states: “I think the art of life consists in tackling each immediate evil as well as we can.” In other words, it is vain to try to come up with some grand philosophy that covers every situation in which Christians are persecuted and how they ought to respond. The reality is, we should simply deal with it when it comes. In Matthew 10:34-36, Jesus states that He “did not come to bring peace on the earth”. What! Jesus, the gentle and loving God, did not come to bring peace to His people? Of course He did, but His point is that allegiance to Him sets you against the world–and your enemies might just be those of the same household. In this passage, He also implies that there will be a time to resist those you love, and sometimes that may have to be very explicit. In my experience, resistance to the enemies of the Gospel must be firm and resolute–not necessarily violent.

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  9. Using both Daniel and 1-2 Maccabees as pieces of literature to help us define how we as Christians should interact with our government in this current century can be one way to seek for answers. Both writings gave examples of ways to how people respond and defend their faith with the Maccabees fighting and Daniel being peaceful. I think there is a balance that goes into the defense of your faith. In verses such as Romans 13:1 and 1 Peter 2:13, scripture talks about how we should submit to the people who are in authority over us because God has placed them there. Daniel shows that there is a way to submit to the authority of government, but still follow God’s call to a life that follows him. I think that this is the proper way of reacting to the government now. While there is a part of me that wants to say stand up and fight back like those in the books of the Maccabees, Ephesians 6:12 says that our fight is not against flesh and blood, but against the spiritual warfare that is around us. When dealing with earthly rulers then, we should make it known who we truly follow but not show disrespect in the process. It goes back to what 1 Peter 2:13 says, “submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake”. We should be able to show who God is through our actions of submission to the government but making it clear that we also have lines we won’t cross when following God just as Daniel did. Violence will only tarnish God’s name, prayer is our weapon and not the sword.

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  10. During the exile, we see that Daniel and his three friends were exposed to new traditions, new rules (Crazy rules that they had to follow), however, they all refused to accept the rules that the Babylonians had. When the rule of praising the Nebuchadnezzar for a month was passed, Daniel was not “supposed” to praise God, he was supposed to worship the king, however, he still praised God. He could’ve prayed to God silently, but instead, he prayed to God with the windows open so that the Babylonian’s could see him. He broke the king’s rule and he had to pay for that. He was thrown into a lions den, where he could’ve been eaten.

    However, he trusted God so much that he was not even afraid when he was thrown into the lion’s den. It is crazy how powerful God really is. When the lions got close to Daniel, they did not do anything to him and Daniel was left unharmed. it is crazy to imagine how many things Daniel and his friends went through however, they never lost hope and were always praising God. This act of Daniel shows how much Daniel trusted God, and as Christians it is very important that we trust God in the same way Daniel did, because after all, we believe and praise to the same God.

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  11. I do not think the Maccabean model for resistance should be used as a model for how to react in a Christian relationship with the state, except for extreme examples, such as, genocide occurring or going to occur. It is extreme to take up arms and go to war, for as history has shown us, many will die. However, as stated above, I do think there are extreme examples that would call for this model of resistance.
    I do agree with using Daniel as a model for how to react in a contemporary Christian relationship with the state, as we have learned from Daniel, it is better to face death than conform to the gods or idols of a another culture. However, that seems like a distant or remote idea living here in the United States. If I was forced to decide between my non-negotiables or death, I would have to choose death, that is why I call them non-negotiables, but I don’t see that happening here in the United States. We are blessed to live in a country that allows us to freely worship the God and religion of our choice.
    Furthermore, I do not think a Christian “daring to be a Daniel” and resisting is the only way to approach such a situation here in 2020. Being vocal and loud on a social media platform is an excellent way to build a group of like-minded people to stand up and resist against a culture or government. However, this is said with a very first-world, American mindset. If the only option for someone to resist their non-negotiables is to suffer and perhaps die, so be it. I suppose each person has to answer that question themselves.

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  12. Many times in the book of Daniel we see Daniel himself as well as some of his friends resist the demands of the government with a peaceful, and solid stance when it came to not turning on their faith. We see it with the idol being made and the kingdom is ordered to worship it, as well as only praying to the king lest they be thrown into the lions den, and again when Daniel is presented with food from the kings table and not taking and eating it. Over and over their lives were threatened by potential death if they chose to withstand the demands of the government, but they were unwavering and refused to deny God by participating in those acts. But the questions presents itself: should we as Christians today stand up for our faith in a physical manner like Matthias? I believe there is a time for us to stand up and fight when it comes to what we believe in, but nonviolence and peaceful rebellion can be just as effective. God can use both physical and passive fighting to win his battles and I know that no matter what, his plans for us will be fulfilled.

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