Divine retribution – Tuesday, 34th Week in ordinary time – Daniel 2: 31- 45
When Nebuchadnez’zar destroyed Jerusalem he carried to Babylon the sacred vessels and leaders of the Jewish people. Among them were some young men without physical defect, handsome and intelligent to serve as royal pages and who were to be trained for three years and then presented to the King.
The book of Daniel tells us of four such young men. Daniel, meaning ‘God (El) has judged’, Hannaniah, meaning ‘Yahweh has been gracious’, Mishael, which means ‘who is what God is’ and Azariah means Yahweh has helped. The chief eunuch in charge of them changed their names to Belteshazzar, Shardrach, Meshach and Abednego.
Yesterday we ready how Daniel and his companions were rewarded by the King for their fidelity. Today’s reading has the previous story in mind. We see how none of the court wise men could compare with Daniel.
In chapter one the emphasis was on faithfulness to those elements of religion concerning private living; here we find a complementary emphasis on the faithfulness to religion in public duties. In chapter one, the Jews of the second century were encouraged to remain faithful to the law by observance of its prescriptions. Here they were encouraged to hold fast to national hope of a coming kingdom.
The king has a dream that has greatly disturbed him and none of his wise men can interpret the dream. In it he sees a huge image of extraordinary splendour. It has a head of gold, breast and arms of silver, belly and thighs of bronze and legs of iron and clay. The stone which brought down the mighty image was ‘cut by no human hand’ in other words it was fashioned by God. The small stone which was cut from the mountain became a great mountain so much so that it filled the earth.
The four metals that composed the image represented the four kingdoms of that historical era that ruled in succession; namely the Babylonians, Median, Persian and Greek. The Babylonian King Nebuchadnez’zar is the head of gold. He received his power from God (vs. 36-38). No hint is given as to the identity of the second Kingdom of silver (v.39a) but there can be no doubt that it is indicative of the Median Kingdom. The third king of bronze (vs. 39b) is the Persian kingdom founded by Cyrus (6:28; 10:1). The fourth kingdom of iron is the Greek empire founded by Alexander (vs. 40 – 43). The writer hurries over the previous three kingdoms in order to give a fuller description. This was the kingdom of greatest interest to our book.
The writer stresses its strength (7:19) how it crushes opposition (7:23) and how finally it will be divided (7:24). According to Daniel’s interpretation, it would be during the reign of the Greeks that the God of heaven would establish his own kingdom (stone), which will destroy these other kingdoms. Therefore the message of hope is announced to the Jews who were living under the oppressive rule of the Syrian Greeks.
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