King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, sixty cubits high and six cubits wide, and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon... As soon as you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.”
At first it is difficult to make a direct connection to the story told in the book of Daniel. It was written to offer encouragement and instruction to Jews living in the state of occupation. Another nation controlled Israel and its people and actively sought to manipulate them into leaving their traditions, culture and faith. Most of us have not experienced this, and so the story and its point seem distant. But, there are writings in the Bible that were not written to people who were marginalized and oppressed, and who instead chose to assimilate to the dominant culture so as to survive and even thrive. We can see examples of this in Deuteronomy, Isaiah, John and Revelation, all of which, in various ways, attempt to convince the reader/listener, that their assimilation comes at great cost, and that resistance is called for. I wonder if Daniel cannot be read in this way.
As we learned on Sunday, Belteshazzar and his friends Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego had their names changed and their dietary regulations challenged. Both would have been tempting and relatively easy ways to ‘fit in’ to the culture imposed by the occupiers. But the next part of the story is much different. The assimilation demanded is one of worship, idol worship, which is a direct violation of the first two of the Ten Commandments. I believe the writer of Daniel is making a statement in this progression. Having one’s name changed is not a violation of a commandment and is largely out of one’s control. Kosher laws were not a part of the Ten Commandments and would have been an easy way to not look so conspicuously ‘other.‘ With the story of the great golden statue the writer of Daniel seems to suggest that assimilation to Babylonian (Greek) culture is a violation of the covenant of God in which Israel vowed to be the people of God.
The writer makes the golden idol so large in order to call attention to matters that seem normal, small, not that important. God created Israel and Christ the church, so that we would the vanguard of the Reign of God. Which means that regardless of the time and place of the believer, we will be called to resist common cultural assumptions and practices that are not in keeping with the reign of God. What are the unique beliefs and practices of those who would follow Christ? What ones may be particularly odd and therefore difficult to follow-through on, for us?