Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Den Of Lions (part 11)

When all efforts at recourse had been attempted and spent, Darius was forced to relent.  “So the king gave the order, and Daniel was brought and thrown into a den of lions” (Daniel 6:16a).  Surely, this was going to be a horrible fate.  Though the Persians engaged in the practice of crucifixion, it was not of the type that was practiced by the Romans.  This manner of punishment could well be considered to be the crucifixion of the day.  It was certainly a dramatic method of shaming, as was crucifixion.   

Before being delivered over to what was understood to be his certain death, “The king consoled Daniel by saying, ‘Your God whom you continually serve will rescue you!’” (6:16b)  It is quite interesting that Darius, a Persian king, would say such a thing before throwing this Jewish prophet into a den of lions.  Why would he say this?  Was he familiar with the Psalms?  Had Daniel, before that point, made reference to the twenty-second Psalm?  If he had, and if this was part of the larger story of Daniel that was passed through the centuries and told even at Jesus’ day, then it makes for an even tighter analogy between Daniel and Jesus, as one considers the situation in which the one that is crying out to the Creator God finds himself. 

Naturally, when the Psalmist references “a roaring lion that rips its prey” (22:13a), pleads that his God will “Rescue me from the mouth of the lion” (22:21a), and speaks of “a gang of evil men” that “crowd around me,” and “like a lion they pin my hands and feet” (22:16b), the tighter connection goes beyond the simple reference to lions in this Psalm,  Though this is quite the shining example of a connection between the ordeals of Daniel and Jesus, that is not the limit of the link.  When Jesus cries out on the cross, “My God, my God, why have You abandoned Me?” (22:1a), He is not merely quoting a single verse, but rather, in the established rabbinic tradition, and in the tradition of the teachers of Israel, He is drawing attention and calling to mind an entire narrative.  Jesus, again in strong rabbinic tradition, together with the Gospel author, wants the entire Psalm, as well as any particular stories that are linked to that Psalm, told with reference to that Psalm and given context by that Psalm. 

The story of Daniel would be one of those stories that would likely have come to be inextricably linked with this Psalm.  So when the people, and especially the leaders of the people that bear the responsibility for His death, hear this cry from Jesus, they will recall the whole of the Psalm.  They will consider the Psalmist’s reference to lions, and the story of Daniel in the lion’s den (with Daniel so popular and well known in the day) will immediately come to mind.  Jesus would be here be linking His plight with that of Daniel, making His previous references to the seventh chapter of Daniel, and His reference to the Son of Man (and by extension the beast that is doing battle against the saints of the Most High, and the Ancient of Days, and the kingdom given to the Son of Man, and the four hundred ninety year period of Daniel’s prophecy) as He stood before the High Priest, even more telling. 

The words of this Psalm can easily be put into the mouths of both Daniel and Jesus.  Both groaned in prayer (22:1b), cried out to God (22:2a), relied upon the promises given to Israel and its ancestors, (22:4), trusted upon their God’s power to perform according to those promises (22:5), were insulted and despised by their adversaries (22:6), experienced taunting and mocking (22:7), given up to the salvation of their God as a test of His power and their truthfulness (22:8), hemmed in by the powerful (22:12), devoured with words (22:13a), set in the dust of death (22:15b), and experienced the gloating of their enemies (22:17b). 

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