Call me biased, but I think the Book of Daniel in the Bible is one of the most inspirational books in the entire Old Testament, with a common theme of remaining steadfast to God in the face of persecution and the hope that comes from God’s inevitable victory over the secular powers of the Earth. For the benefit of those who might not be familiar with most of these stories, I’ll do a quick rundown of the main parts of the book.
First, the book begins by telling how the king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, conquered the nation of Judah and took away anything of value that he could, including the best and brightest young people (kind of like the Bible version of college students when you think about it). Four of these young men are Daniel and his friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. As part of their training to become servants for the king, these young men are required to eat at the king’s banquet table, which presents a problem for Daniel and his friends who can’t eat unclean pagan food, because it may have been sacrificed to the false gods. In defiance of the status quo, they instead decided to only eat fresh fruits, vegetables, and water. This pleases God so much that He gives them great wisdom to rise to the top of their classes.
Later on, Nebuchadnezzar has dreams that no one but Daniel can interpret. The dream is about a great statue that is made of all different kind of metals, but is then crushed by a boulder that turns into a mountain. God gives Daniel the meaning of the dream, which is that the statue represents all of the kingdoms that will rule over the known world in the next few centuries, and how strong they will be. In the end however, the Kingdom of God, represented by the boulder, will reign over all secular authority and last forever. Upon finally learning the meaning of the dream, the king is so happy that he elevates Daniel and his friends to high positions in the government, but then gets the idea to build a giant statue of himself and have everyone worship it. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego refuse and are thrown into a giant furnace to burn to death as punishment for defying the king. However, God rewards their faith and obedience to Hsim and protects them so they aren’t harmed in the slightest. Later on, Babylon is conquered by the Persian Darius who likes Daniel so much that he wants to put him in charge of supervising the entire kingdom. This makes the other supervisors jealous and they trick Darius into signing a law preventing praying to God. Daniel continues to pray anyway and is famously thrown into the lion’s den, only to have God save him by shutting the lion’s mouth and allowing him to survive.
Daniel also receives many visions about the future of his people, mainly about how trying times are ahead for them, but in the end, God will send salvation. The last two stories aren’t as well-known as the rest and are even excluded from non-Catholic bibles. The first of these stories tells how Daniel comes to the aid of a young woman named Susanna who is faithful to God, but has been falsely accused of infidelity to her husband by two elders who wished to sleep with her, but were refused on account of her virtue. Because they are highly respected, everyone believes them and Susanna is about to be put to death when God inspires Daniel to expose the elder’s lies and reward Susanna for her faithfulness to God and His commandments. Finally, at the end of the book, Daniel is working for King Cyrus and manages to prove that two of the major gods that the king worships are false, one being a statue and the other a large snake that Daniel kills by feeding it pitch and fat. Enraged by this, the people of Babylon throw Daniel into the lion’s den again, and again God saves him.
The entire book of Daniel is reassuring, and reminds us that if we remain faithful to God and His Church, He will protect and reward us in spite of all that the world can throw at us. We are lucky enough that we don’t have to worry about being thrown into a fire or a lion’s den – both of which belong on a “most-painful-ways-to-die list,” but we do face persecution from those with a secular mindset in the forms of ridicule, financial and legal pressure, and sometimes even physical violence. No matter what, we must remember to put God before all else, just like Daniel.