Tag Archives: Cannibalism

Chorus to a Tale of Pain & Purpose

In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah…
And Daniel remained there until the first year of King Cyrus.
Daniel 1:1a, 21 (NIV) 

In the history of theatre, Greece was the first great age. The Greeks developed several theatrical conventions that are still widely used today including the use of what was called a Chorus to prepare the audience for what they are about to watch and to narrate the events. Shakespeare used the same convention widely in his plays, as do many modern productions.

The first chapter of Daniel is the literary equivalent of a Chorus. The author, traditionally ascribed to Daniel himself, uses the opening of the book to provide a quick lay of the land with regard to the background of the story and introduces us to the major players. The fact that the chapter describes Daniel and his companions as being learned young men who were then given a thorough course in Babylonian literature and culture, is ironic. It seems to me that the chapter itself gives evidence to this in its structure and content.

In the next year, our local gathering of Jesus’ followers will be studying the theme of exile. I’ve written in previous posts about the theme of wilderness throughout the Great Story. The exile of God’s people in Babylon is one of the major examples and many casual readers don’t realize just how many characters, psalms, and books come out of this period. Jeremiah, Lamentations, Daniel, Esther, Ezekiel, and Nehemiah are all books that chronicle parts of the Babylonian exile and return.

In today’s chapter, Daniel provides bookend dates of the story he’s about to pen. It starts in the “third year of Jehoiakim king of Judah” and ends the first year of King Cyrus. A little study shows this to be 605-539 B.C. In other words, Daniel was an educated young man from nobility in Israel’s southern kingdom of Judah. His hometown is destroyed in a long Babylonian siege in which Daniel watched people starve to death and, according to the prophet Jeremiah, reduced to cannibalism to survive.

Out of this horrific event, Daniel is taken captive by his enemy. He is torn from his family, his people, and his hometown which has been reduced to rubble. He ends up in the capital city of his enemy, Babylon, and finds himself subject to indentured servitude to his people’s enemy number one: King Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel’s own name is taken from him and he is given a new name. He is forced for three years to learn everything about the history, culture, and literature of his enemy.

A young man of God forced to live in captivity and exile and to serve his enemies for about 65 years. Welcome to the story of Daniel, whom many people only know from brightly illustrated children’s books in the dusty Sunday School memory bins of their brains.

But the real story is far deeper and more complex than that, as Daniel tries to tell me as a reader in his opening Chorus. It is the story of a young man who finds a way to survive. He courageously maintains and lives out his faith in the midst of the unbelievably difficult circumstances that make up nearly his entire life.

In the quiet this morning I find myself mulling over the common misperception I observe followers of Jesus often have, and that I confess I find myself unconsciously falling into from time to time. It’s partially driven, I believe, by the American Dream and the Protestant work ethic. If we believe, work hard, and live good lives then life should be a breeze of material blessing and pain-free existence. But as I journey through God’s Message I find that this has never been the message. Daniel fires an explosive shot across the bow of that notion from the very beginning of his story.

Trauma, suffering, starving, captivity, bondage, indentured servitude, and life-long exile in the land of his enemies serving a mad king.

I find God’s purpose in my pain. That’s the message Daniel foreshadows in the Chorus of his book, and the one I’ve been reminded of over and over again on my life journey.

 

Chapter-a-Day Deuteronomy 28

Cannibalism, by Leonhard Kern, 1650
Image via Wikipedia

And you’ll end up cannibalizing your own sons and daughters that God, your God, has given you. When the suffering from the siege gets extreme, you’re going to eat your own babies. The most gentle and caring man among you will turn hard, his eye evil, against his own brother, his cherished wife, and even the rest of his children who are still alive, refusing to share with them a scrap of meat from the cannibal child-stew he is eating. He’s lost everything, even his humanity, in the suffering of the siege that your enemy mounts against your fortified towns. Deuteronomy 28:53-55 (MSG)

Things like cannibalism tend to stand out in today’s culture. Perhaps that’s why this passage stood out in today’s chapter. We can’t fathom an act so inhuman and grotesque. Yet, for the people following Moses, the idea was not foreign. Child sacrifice was common among the religions of the region and the seige warfare described in today’s chapter had become common in Moses time as more and more cities created walls to protect themselves from invaders.

What is very scary to me about today’s chapter is the way it perfectly describes the events witnessed and recorded by Jeremiah both in the book of Jeremiah and in the book of Lamentations, where the prophet records in verse what he witnesses in the seige of Jerusalem by the Babylonians:

“Look at us, God. Think it over. Have you ever treated anyone like this?
   Should women eat their own babies, the very children they raised?”

The very things that Moses warned were the very things that happened, cannibalism and all. Today I am reminded that these chapters I read are not just from any book; They are part of God’s Message and God’s story from the beginning to the end of all that we know. What Moses predicted came to pass in the days of Jeremiah, what Jeremiah predicted came to pass in the person of Jesus, what Jesus predicted….

Lord, have mercy on us. 

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