Then Daniel went to his home and informed his companions, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, and told them to seek mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery, so that Daniel and his companions with the rest of the wise men of Babylon might not perish. Then the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision of the night, and Daniel blessed the God of heaven.
‘Blessed be the name of God from age to age, for wisdom and power are his. He changes times and seasons, deposes kings and sets up kings; he gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding. He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what is in the darkness, and light dwells with him. To you, O God of my ancestors, I give thanks and praise, for you have given me wisdom and power, and have now revealed to me what we asked of you, for you have revealed to us what the king ordered.’
In an ancient kingdom a powerful ruler sets his experts a deadly test, ‘reveal to me my dream and its interpretation, or pay the ultimate price’. Concerned for his life and that of others, a mid-level advisor makes a promise that he cannot in his own strength keep, to reveal the king’s dream and its interpretation, to speak of something that no mere mortal can know. For who can search the hearts and the minds of men and who can discern their thoughts from afar? Find the answer in Psalm 139:1-6.
It is perhaps because of this Psalm that Daniel takes up the challenge, with confidence, rather than going into hiding he goes to the chief of secret police and appeals for time. Then Daniel returns to his companions to seek mercy from the God of heaven. In other words, they pray.
I spoke to a friend today who feels his boss has set him an impossible task. I speak to people most weeks who fear for a future that neither they, nor I, can reasonably be expected to know. We all meet people in our lives whose problems seem beyond our comprehension.
Though none of these matters are beyond the God we worship, the God of heaven, the Alpha and the Omega, who knows the beginning and the end, and is Lord over the unseen spiritual realm as much as over the kingdoms of this earth. Just as this God is ready to hear the prayers of Daniel and his companions, God is ready to hear our prayers too.
Daniel is indeed a wise man, but part of wisdom is knowing our limitations and trusting the One whose knowledge is unlimited. God reveals the answer to Daniel in a vision, and Daniel gives thanks for that – to the God of heaven, God beyond us, but also to the God of his ancestors, the God who has come close; the God revealed to us in covenant love.
God of the heavens, to whom all hearts are open, all secrets are known, and from whom nothing is hidden, teach us to come to you in wisdom and humility; to turn to you on behalf of others, when we cannot see a way forward, when fears threaten to overwhelm, when faced with problems beyond understanding, that through our living and praying, we may point to your love and power. In Jesus’ precious name. Amen.
The Rev’d James Church is Minister of Radford Road Church and Lillington Free Church, Royal Leamington Spa.