Daniel was sent as a servant-slave to Babylon.
Daniel’s nation, Israel, had been destroyed by King Nebuchadnezzar’s forces, but the real ruin started centuries earlier when they rejected God as a leader and asked Samuel to find them a king.
“And the LORD told [Samuel]: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king” (1 Samuel 8:7).
As a result they got what they wanted…. Wow, did that turn out poorly!!!
I imagine Daniel, on his long journey from Jerusalem to Babylon, had a long time to rehearse the details of their story. He was struggling to connect the dots.
When the people asked Samuel for a king, they were not just rejecting Samuel as a person, they were rejecting God as a leader….
But even more, the were rejecting two other deeps truths: God as a servant and themselves as co-leaders.
Kingly structures distort responsibilities. They dethrone God as one who serves and they strip from followers the responsibility as co-leaders.
Wanting a king rejects the creation story, because it rejects the truth of why God created a place for Adam and Even and it distorts the identity we have for dominion.
But still more oddly, as Daniel trudged his way from Jerusalem to Babylon, he was not only ruminating about his past and his nation servant-king distortions, but he was also probably thinking about his future as he was headed to a kingdom that had the “king disease” even worse than Israel had.
King Nebuchadnezzar was a despot. Babylon was a dog-eat dog culture, a hierarchy if ever there was!
And even more confusing, was Jeremiah’s advice that I am sure was ringing in Daniel’s ears:
“Because you have not listened to my words, I will summon all the peoples of the north and my servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon,” declares the Lord, “and I will bring them against this land and its inhabitants and against all the surrounding nations…. and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years.” Jer 25:8-11
“‘This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: “Tell this to your masters: With my great power and outstretched arm I made the earth and its people and the animals that are on it, and I give it to anyone I please. Now I will give all your countries into the hands of my servant Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon; I will make even the wild animals subject to him. All nations will serve him and his son and his grandson until the time for his land comes; then many nations and great kings will subjugate him.” Jer 27:4-7
And then a final caveat:
“This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage, so that they too may have sons and daughters. Increase in number there; do not decrease….. “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. ….and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.” (Jer 29:4-13).
Daniel had a lot to think about.
I believe God was guiding his thinking with the love of a heavenly father, and the wisdom of a teacher.
God was still the greatest servant, and in that, was the greatest leader.
Daniel’s name showed the hope in all this, that God, the servant God, who saw all and knew all was leading and that He, Daniel, could be his servant, and as such a slave-leader to the nation he was headed.
A servant leader exemplified by Samuel.
And that is what he became.
I see three events I see this profoundly, showing the servant characteristics that suggest that was what he did:
- Daniel 1. He didn’t want to eat food offered to idols. He wanted to show allegiance to God above the kingly powers. But even then, being right was not enough. It never is. He sought to be righteous—respect the positions and face of others. He requested when others commanded. He offered a plan to his captors, an experiment. He was exercising his authority while acknowledging Gods and accepted the authority of those around him.
- Daniel 1, 2, 6–He stayed in communion and collaborative. He had friends and he depended on them. He prayed often to God. He stayed in a vortex of relationships with others.
- Daniel, 2, 4, and 5. He spoke truth to power but in a submissive way and at the right time. Followers can just as easily try to lord it over leaders. But Daniel, when called upon, as a follower, spoke truth as a way of bringing God’s judgments to light.
Daniel was in a place to try something different. He could serve.
He would later at time be elevated to leadership, but at other times, be thrown to the Lions.
The issue was that he could serve and that God could decide as His judge what was best.
What Greenleaf (1977,) said of Leo, a character in a book Journey to the East, can be said of Daniel, and even more of Christ and by extension God: “the great leader is seen as servant first, and that simple fact is the key to his greatness….he was servant first because that was what he was, deep down inside. Leadership was bestowed upon a man who was by nature a servant. It was something given, or assumed, that could be taken away. His servant nature was the real man, not bestowed, not assumed, and not taken away. He was servant first” (pp. 7, 8)
“The natural servant, the person who is servant first, is more likely to persevere and refine a particular hypothesis on what serves another’s highest priority needs than is the person who is leader first and who later serves out of promptings of conscience or in conformity with normative expectations” (p. 14).
Leadership happens only well when it is safely encased in servant hood.
When it gets outside of that, it becomes satanic, selfish, self-aggrandizing.
I believe Daniel had learned that from Israel’s history.
But would it work in Babylon?
Who will believes it will work today?
“A new moral principle is emerging which holds that the only authority deserving one’s allegiance is that which is freely and knowingly granted by the led to the leader in response to, and in protection to, the clearly evident servant stature of the leader” (p. 10).