Commercial and bureaucratic hindrances collided with an uncontrollable reality: the faith of many players.
We recently moved house and a couple of apple trees in our garden bore good fruit this year but they had not been pruned for a long time. So a tree surgeon came and cut them right back. He told us that they may well not bear fruit in the next two years; but his pruning will give them 25 more years of fruitfulness. Times of pruning are necessary, but hard.
Have you ever felt put on one side and ignored, that your talents and abilities were not being used? This is exactly what Daniel was experiencing in this chapter. Under King Nebuchadnezzar he had been chief of all the magicians, enchanters, astrologers and diviners (verse 11) - an interesting position for a believer! But when the king died and his son Belshazzar took over, there was no place for Daniel in the court, even though he was known to be highly gifted (verse 12).
How often this happens: a new political party comes to power and the supporters of the old regime are swept aside or relegated to positions on the sidelines. A new senior manager comes to a company and he wants his own people in the positions of power and influence under him; so out go all those who were close to his predecessor.
I well remember one of my colleagues who had a personal friendship with our Director-General and so had privileged access to him, so that his plans and suggestions invariably found favour. But then came a new Director-General, who seemed to resent those who had been close to his predecessor, and my colleague found himself on the outside, with the cold wind of disapproval blowing round him. This is very hard to take. How did Daniel deal with it?
Daniel was called in to read the mysterious handwriting only after everybody else had failed to do so. In fact, the queen mother was the only one who even remembered him (verse 10), and we can imagine them searching intently for him until he was discovered stuck away in some back office in the depths of the palace. Now this is his big chance to get back into favour: finally he is brought before the king. But then he seems to blow it. He tells him, You may keep your gifts for yourself and give your rewards to someone else. Nevertheless, I will read the writing for the king and tell him what it means (verse 17). This is hardly the way to win friends and influence people!
Yes, Daniel remained utterly faithful to his God. Promotion or advancement were not his goals; he simply wanted to give the message from God faithfully to the king; and he did. Where are our priorities in life: a better job, more money, more favour with our bosses? - all of these are good things, but only if they are in a framework where faithfulness to God is our number one priority. See too how Daniel, in his words to King Belshazzar, is completely free of bitterness or resentment. How would you have felt if it was you who had been placed on the sidelines for years, unable to use the talents and gifts which you knew God had given you? It is true that Daniel had a very tough message to give to the king - but there is no hint of personal animosity in it.
Some of us spend years nursing resentment and regret that our talents and gifts are not being recognised, in our job, in our church, among our friends. Some of us feel that God has put us aside and forgotten us. But Jesus says, Every branch that bears fruit my Father prunes, so that it will be even more fruitful (John 15:2). Pruning is about us being cut back. We recently moved house and a couple of apple trees in our garden bore good fruit this year but they had not been pruned for a long time. So a tree surgeon came and cut them right back. He told us that they may well not bear fruit in the next two years; but his pruning will give them 25 more years of fruitfulness. Times of pruning are necessary, but hard.
We may feel that we have not progressed as far as we should have, in our career or in our church or in some other sphere. But Solomon wisely reminds us, The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favour to the learned, but time and chance happen to them all (Ecclesiastes 9:11). John the Baptist had remarkable insight when people told him that he was being surpassed by the new preacher on the block, Jesus. He said, A person can receive only what is given him from heaven (John 3:27). This has been a particularly helpful verse for me to mediate on at times when I have felt put aside.
The present situation will not continue for ever. Daniel knew that and had prepared his heart for the new order. So, when King Belshazzar was killed, as Daniel had predicted, and Darius took over and appointed Daniel to a senior position, he was ready for it and was able to remain faithful to God in the service of the new king.