Daniel, Head Magician

When the first Harry Potter book came out, it quickly became embroiled in controversy largely generated by Christians who were opposed to a book about magic written for children. I understand the thinking. It’s not my intention to rehash the issue, but I can’t help but make a comparison: Harry with Daniel.

Yes, I’m referring to the Daniel-in-the-lions’-den Daniel. First, both were teens. Well, Harry was only eleven when the books started, but he grew up before the eyes of his adoring public. Daniel was a teen at the beginning of his true story and became an old man by the end.

Second, both lived as aliens and strangers. Harry was a gifted, powerful wizard living with people who hated and feared him because of it. Daniel lived with people who had captured him and held him as a slave.

Third, and this is really the point of this post, they were both gifted in magic. Harry’s magic, of course, is pretend. He could learn how to mix potions, wave his wand just so, incant spells, fly his broom — things which are make-believe. Daniel learned, too — the language and literature of the Chaldeans. Did that include their astrology, necromancy, sorcery? Hard to say.

We know he interpreted dreams, starting with the one Nebuchadnezzar wouldn’t describe. But he had already earned a spot as one of the “magicians, the conjurers, the sorcerers and the Chaldeans” marked for death because it appeared no one could do what the king demanded.

And Daniel’s reward when he did actually give the king the dream and its interpretation? He was promoted. Among other duties, he became chief of the magicians (see for example Dan. 4:9).

Think about that for a moment. He not only lived among those people who worshiped idols, but now he was head of those who used the dark arts to guide their king in his decisions. Talk about being in the culture!

But Daniel and his three friends early in their captivity made up their minds that they would not defile themselves. At issue in those days was what they were to eat. Seemingly, Daniel knew the Law, and he intended to abide by it.

We know years later he was still maintaining a regular prayer life, one that was not secret. He lived, as he intended, in communion with God.

And yet his job was chief of the magicians.

I imagine these were people like the Egyptian sorcerers who matched miracles with Moses and Aaron for a short time. In other words, they had real power — just not God’s power.

And Daniel was their chief.

I find that incredible! Today many Christians run from reading about pretend magic, and Daniel was put in charge of real magicians, people who knew how to read the heavens.

Sure, some of what they did was undoubtedly a scam. I suspect that’s why Nebuchadnezzar came up with his impossible request: they were to first tell him what he dreamed, and only then interpret it. I imagine he was fed up with what he had detected to be party-line interpretations. He wanted to know what the dream actually meant, not whatever flattery those fakes might come up with.

But later if they were all fakes, all the time, and Daniel was their chief, why wouldn’t he simply clean house and get good, honest Jews in their place, men like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego whom he could trust? He could have turned the magicians’ arm of the government into a Christian uh, a department run by believers in the One True God.

Of course, he might have been the only person God gifted with the power of divination among the Jewish exiles. But what did Daniel think of the pagan diviners? That they were illegitimate? That they were tapping into the power of the evil one? That they were just one more evidence of the sinfulness of the nation in which he was forced to live? Did he respect them? Or did he squelch them as often as he could?

They owed him their lives because they were due to be executed, and yet they came up with a scheme to get him killed, so there was no love lost on their part.

Why all this speculation?

I think Christians today in the Western world tend to run scared when it comes to evil. I know I have. I’ve been places where offerings were made to idols, and I sensed evil in a way that freaked me out. But I think that plays into Satan’s hand. The truth is, he is not stronger than God — that would be He who resides in the heart of every Christian. Why are we running scared? it should be Satan running scared when he sees us advancing on our knees.

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Published in: on May 1, 2012 at 6:06 pm  Comments (12)  
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12 Comments

  1. I never noticed that Daniel’s title was chief of the magicians, which gives rise to the questions you posted. Some food for thought.

    As to Satan running scared from Christians, I’m not sure he’s all that afraid. He has studied us enough to know our weakness in fervency and righteousness, for much prayer to matter. Originally, Satan didn’t know enough to fear God’s power (sounds just like a lot of mankind), to think he could mount a successful revolt. The angels like us, created beings, can only know the Creator as He reveals Himself to them. I can imagine that the angels, before the revolt, knew only the kindness of God as they served Him. Afterward, Satan and his followers found out quickly to fear God’s wrath.

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  2. Perhaps we found out why these men resented Daniel! Their work was inferior, and came from a source that was clearly Not the source for Daniel’s wonders. The only way they could find any charge to trumpet against Daniel was, of necessity, in regard to his devotion to God. I hope I qualify for such a charge!

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  3. I was thinking of this earlier today. Along with the thought that Daniel is the first college student in the Bible, but that’s only slightly relevant. And it’s also come up in my classic literature class, in the topic of Should-Christians-read-Greek-myths? In the world but not of it is NOT a new idea, and it can work.

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  4. Bob, Daniel was also head of the “satraps,” and was one of the three put in charge of all the other commissioners, so apparently his job over his lifetime of service in the Babylonian and then in the Persian court was not static.

    You’re thoughts about Satan are interesting. But Scripture says we are to resist the Devil and he will flee. Something about our standing against him chases him off. I suspect it is the Holy Spirit in us. Simply put, Satan is over matched — not by us, mind you, but by God.

    Think about how the demons who encountered Jesus begged Him to leave them alone. It’s as if when they encounter God, they fear the end has come. Maybe that’s what it is. Maybe His very presence is painful to them for reasons we can’t yet know.

    While I believe Satan is not to be trifled with — after all, he’s still that roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour — I don’t think he’s someone Christians need to shrink from. Greater is He who is in us than he who is in the world.

    Becky

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  5. Peggy, when I first realized that the guys who set Daniel up were undoubtedly some of the same ones whose lives he’d saved, I was at a loss. But yes, this makes sense that they were possibly jealous, and maybe even fearful because they were faced with someone who had access to a Power they could only dream of.

    I hear you about the charges they brought against him. May it be so for all God’s Church.

    Becky

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  6. Should-Christians-read-Greek-myths? In the world but not of it is NOT a new idea, and it can work. Galadriel, that’s exactly where my thoughts were going. I love the book of Daniel. Only wish there was more of it. I’d like to know what happened to the three friends after Daniel appointed them to high office. Did they keep praying for each other all those years as they served in the court of pagan kings?

    They were such men of courage and conviction and faith. What great examples.

    Becky

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  7. Outstanding post. Spot on. Why is it that I fail to “armor-up” (Hebrews 6:10-18) daily? Not sure I am ready to sing “Here KITTY KITTY.”
    I have been encouraged here. Thanks Becca Barnabas!

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  8. Reblogged this on charliesuet.

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  9. Becky, you know I praise you when you do well, but you mustn’t expect praise here. There are so many problems with this post Biblically.

    Maria

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  10. Ha! Sue, I certainly am not calling “here kitty” either. Satan is not to be toyed with. He is to be resisted which is why we have spiritual armor. But he isn’t to be feared, either. Greater is He who is in us than he who is in the world. Or did I already say that? It’s the key point of this post actually. We have an enemy but we don’t have to run scared.

    Becky

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  11. Hi, Marie, yes, I appreciate whenever you pass along your affirmation of posts I write. I am happy to entertain differences, too. I just re-read this post to see if I could spot what you’re referring to that is giving you problems Biblically.

    Let me elaborate on one point that I never fully fleshed out. Daniel apparently knew the law, which was why he and his friends wanted a different menu than the one initially offered them. They had made up their minds not to defile themselves. I’m convinced this was the guiding principle of their lives as exiles. Hence, I feel confident that Daniel never involved himself in the dark arts. Nevertheless, Scripture is clear that he was indeed considered one of the “magicians, the conjurers, the sorcerers and the Chaldeans,” and in fact that he was put in charge of them.

    In contrast to how he treated the food situation, he apparently accepted this role and used the power God gave him to serve God. It simply strikes me as quite different from how we react today.

    Becky

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  12. Becky,

    Something that bothers me is that you’ve highlighted Daniel’s obedience to dietary laws as if it were his only obedience. This is somewhat natural, and often done, because the Word of God majors on it. This particular obedience set him and his fellow exiles apart, sanctifying them for God’s use in ‘the world’, the pagan court of Nebuchadnezzar. However, we can’t infer from this that it was his (their) primary or only obedience.

    Prohibitions against the occult fill the Law and prophets, and are especially important because disobedience to them were one primary reason for the Exile. The dietary laws were obligatory, and some even carried the weighty punishment of being cut off from God’s people; but involvement with the occult was a capital crime. Daniel bore a title, he knew ABOUT the magical things of the Chaldeans, but he could not have practiced any of them, as you suggested in your reply, though this wasn’t clear in your post.

    You began by saying that you didn’t wish to rehash the debate about whether Christians should read Potter, but you have. You’ve brought it all up, and then brought in the big gun of godly Daniel as if he were someone we should see as a sort of Harry.

    Pertinent chapters about the Law (dietary and other), which Daniel and his fellow exiles were obligated to keep, can be found in such passages as Deuteronomy 18, Leviticus 7 and 11, to name a few.

    Maria

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