Wrestling with Belteshazzar
I guess there’s a certain irony in reading a book subtitled Embracing Life As It Is while waiting for your car at the alignment shop. Mind you, my car is ten years old, has never been in a wreck, and I faithfully take care of its dependable German body. Thus if my mechanic returns to announce to me that he couldn’t quite align the tires and I should just embrace this situation, no doubt I’ll find another mechanic.
A double irony is that the only scrap of paper I have to journal on while waiting for my car is a receipt from my sports chiropractor. He informed me this morning that my hip rotation might not ever quite adjust to normal—I tore my hamstring over two years ago—but I should hopefully be able to slowly rebuild my running base without significant limitations. Having wrestled with this condition for thirty months, seen two other specialists, and missed yet another marathon, I surmise that this is something I may indeed have to embrace.
The book I’m reading, or actually rereading, is Second Choice: Embracing Life As It Is by Viv Thomas. 1 The author examines how the prophet Daniel learned not only to survive but also thrive in a place that was not his choosing, what Thomas calls “a second-choice world.” Daniel and the people of Jerusalem, you will remember, were exiled to Babylon in 605 BC. The book was part of our staff retreat discussion three years ago. I initially flipped through it and then set it aside until a couple days before our retreat, when I dutifully read it and underlined pertinent passages for our discussion.
Looking at the book now, I observe—and this is telling—that I didn’t write my name or the date inside. This is always the first thing I do, even with textbooks. Yes, I recall when I first received that book. And I remember that I was angry. I did not want to listen to anyone talk about “second choice,” “embracing life as it is,” and in my estimation, giving up and settling for less than what I want.
I’ve since talked with a few individuals about the book, and each shared a similar visceral response. For even as the author remarks, “Daniel found himself in a place that he did not want to be and the primary cause of his difficulty was the wrongdoing of other people, many of whom were now dead.” 2 From the moment Daniel and his friends are taken captive, they are required to immerse themselves in “the language and literature of the Babylonians” (Dan. 1:4), which with its focus on sorcery, astrology, and polytheism, was another dark, foreign window on the world to these displaced followers of Yahweh. Then King Nebuchadnezzar threatens them with death unless someone announce and interpret his dream, and Daniel’s friends are thrown into a fiery furnace after refusing to worship a golden statue. Furthermore, they are assigned new names; Daniel is named “Belteshazzar.” And of course, this is only the beginning of the story!
Nevertheless, the story of Daniel is a profound testament to God’s sovereignty and provision in the face of a furnace—God delivers his friends unharmed—lion’s den, mysterious dreams, and maniacal rulers. And as I reread Second Choice, I see that Thomas underscores this same perspective:
"Going through our second-choice world well depends on understanding who is in charge of the process and who has allowed us to be there in the first place. It is very difficult to deal with second-choice worlds if we feel we arrived there by the fling of some cosmic dice or by the whim of some powerful person…. As we live in our second-choice world, the knowledge that whatever or whoever has been the cause of our entering it does not possess the final authority over us, is transformational. Sickness does not rule: God does. My boss does not rule: God does." 3
Thomas continues, “Second-choice worlds unzip us, but if we let them do so they unzip us before God. We remain wounded, tender and in need: just the sort of people who are ready to witness to God’s grace in dens of lions, Daniel types who endure and live boldly whatever happens.” 4
It is curious to revisit a book that once caused so much turmoil and find it now brings wisdom and sustenance. I guess this is testimony to how our perspective informs what we see—or don’t see—as well as to the persistent work of God in our lives as we wrestle with Him. Indeed, as the author discerns, “Second-choice worlds can do wonders for our communion with God but only if we so choose. For they can also sever all realistic conversation with God, leaving us deaf and dumb in relationship to him.” 5
For there are moments when we feel powerless or restless, and we surmise, “In my first-choice world I will be happy”; “In my first-choice world I will be secure.” Yet Thomas reminds us that “the world in which we live is itself a second choice…. Things are not as they should be,” and like Daniel, “we live our lives in the context of this dislocation.” 6 “The Daniel story confronts this sort of perfectionist thinking, shattering idealized fantasy worlds. Daniel insists that second-choice worlds are not dumping grounds for failures; they are rather arenas in which to demonstrate the reality of God.” 7 The author writes out of his own story of abandonment and displacement, and of the grace and gifts God has given him that have carried him through his second-choice world.
Daniel himself thrived in such a world through persistent prayer, a community of likeminded friends, and a steadfast hope that God alone “changes times and seasons” and “no one can hold back his hand” (Dan. 2:21; 4:35). “Daniel was living with the sense that God is in charge of the timing of events,” writes Thomas. “He is the Lord of time and the times in between time: the periods when nothing seems to be happening, when we are becalmed and it looks as if there is no wind to take us forward to the destination…. If we focus only on our immediate needs and make them authoritative over us then we will always live as their victims.” 8
Daniel also had a future vision—or really, a few such visions—of God’s deliverance of his exiled people (see chapters 7-10). Yet far from bringing immediate comfort, they bring him face to face with the Living God, invoking terror, confusion, and exhaustion. Daniel recounts,
So I was left alone, gazing at this great vision; I had no strength left, my face turned deathly pale and I was helpless. Then I heard him speaking, and as I listened to him, I fell into a deep sleep, my face to the ground. A hand touched me and set me trembling on my hands and knees. He said, “Daniel, you who are highly esteemed, consider carefully the words I am about to speak to you, and stand up, for I have now been sent to you.” And when he said this to me, I stood up trembling. Then he continued, “Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them.” (10: 8-12)
I remember running across this passage in Scripture when I desperately needed to hear from God and not the voices of fear and dread that were overwhelming me. Two years earlier Daniel had cried out, “O Lord, listen! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, hear and act!” (9:19), and Gabriel appears to him and announces, “As soon as you began to pray, an answer was given, which I have come to tell you, for you are highly esteemed” (9:23). Here in chapter 10 Daniel “mourned for three weeks” (v.2). Then the Lord himself comes to him and declares, “Your words were heard and I have come in response to them.” Daniel is dumbstruck before his Lord, “his face like lightning, his eyes like flaming torches” (v. 6), and the Lord responds by ministering tenderness and strength to him. Three times he touches Daniel and repeats words of encouragement: “Again the one who looked like a man touched me and gave me strength. ‘Do not be afraid, O man highly esteemed,’ he said. ‘Peace! Be strong now; be strong’” (vv. 18-19).
You may notice that the Lord twice calls Daniel “a man highly esteemed” (10: 11, 19) and Gabriel also identifies him as such (9:23). These three instances are the only use of this phrase (actually one Hebrew word) in Scripture to describe a person. The English Standard Version better translates it in its vocative form; that is, an actual name that the Lord calls Daniel: “O man greatly loved.” The Hebrew noun means “costliness” and “preciousness,” and elsewhere is used to describe gold or some other valuable object.
It is significant to note, then, that chapter 10 begins, “In the third year of Cyrus, king of Persia, a revelation was given to Daniel (who was called Belteshazzar)” (v. 1, emphasis mine). You will recall that years before Nebuchadnezzar defiantly stripped Daniel of his home and even his name, rendering him “Belteshazzar,” meaning “may Bel [or an Assyrian god or king] protect his life.” However, Nebuchadnezzar could not strip him of his identity. Even as the namesake Daniel indicates, “God is my judge.” And intrinsic to this Hebrew sentiment “O man greatly loved” is the idea of desire, longing, and even coveting. (The verb form is found in the tenth commandment not to covet, as well as the Song of Songs.) So for the Lord to name Daniel “O man greatly loved” reveals his divine jealousy for his beloved and his powerful reminder of whose he is. It is the Lord alone, and no other god or king, who is Daniel’s protector. The Lord alone is the One who has the power to “change times and seasons,” and yes, even who we are; “for he is the Living God … and his dominion will never end” (6:26). We may wrestle with Belteshazzar and Nebuchadnezzar in our second-choice worlds, but this world is not our home, and our identity is not of this world if we are God’s own. As with Daniel, our Lord has also stepped into our world, even embracing it—and its cross—as his dwelling for a season. And we are, like Daniel, precious and greatly loved, such that we may find courage and hope to embrace this life as it is because the Lord embraces us as we are: his.
Danielle DuRant is research assistant at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries
1 Viv Thomas’s Second Choice: Embracing Life As It Is (Paternoster Press, 2000), 154 pages. Foreword by Eugene Peterson. Reprinted by Authentic Media (2002) and available for a limited time at RZIM by calling 1-800-448-6766 or through our online store.2 Ibid., 29.3 46, emphasis mine.4 64.5 75.6 7. 7 6.8 36-37, 47.