What’s intriguing about Daniel is that he didn’t necessarily seem to choose to become a prophet, but rather, was forced into the position by humans and blessed by God along the way. After God had put Israel into exile, King Nebuchadnezzar told
his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility, youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace, and to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans. The king assigned them a daily portion of the food that the king ate, and of the wine that he drank. They were to be educated for three years, and at the end of that time they were to stand before the king. Among these were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah of the tribe of Judah. (Dn 1:3-6)
What’s especially important to note here is that these Israelites studied the literature and language of the Chaldeans. That being said, there was plenty of different works to study, including strange religious texts. As one commentary explains,
Babylon was the learning center of the day and had acquired the remarkable library left by the Assyrian ruler Ashurbanipal (669–626 b.c.). According to Wiseman, Babylonian texts indicate that the schools of the day copied sign lists, word lists, paradigms, legal materials, all kinds of religious documents, fables, omen texts including those about “devils and evil spirits,” astrological and mathematical texts, economic data, as well as historical materials. (Miller, Stephen R. Daniel. Vol. 18. Nashville, Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1994. p. 62. The New American Commentary.)
These are the kinds of things that Daniel would have learned on his way to become God’s prophet. It feels a little sketchy for him to be studying some of this material, doesn’t it? Well, things get sketchier. The three years they spent studying was
The allotted period of training in the Persian system to become a master of spiritual learning according to the Avesta—a collection of sacred texts used by Zoroastrian priests. This length of training for priests may have been the same in Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylon. (Barry, John D. et al. Faithlife Study Bible. Bellingham, Lexham Press, 2016, see note on Dn 1:5.)
And just in case we’re not feeling uncomfortable enough yet, we should make sure we have a firm grasp on who the Chaldeans (Daniel’s teachers) were. While the word “Chaldeans” can be used to generally refer to the Babylonians at large, it was also a word that was used specifically in reference to the Babylonian wise men or priests. And given that these Chaldeans are summoned right alongside magicians, enchanters, and sorcerers (Dn 2:2) to interpret one of King Nebuchadnezzar’s dreams, we begin to see that these are the kind of people Daniel is learning from.
This is all very interesting. Four Israelites are thrown into a sketchy religious program, but keep their eyes on Yahweh the whole time and “God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom, and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams” (Dn 1:17). And because Yahweh was their source while all of these other religious people appealed to false spirits, “in every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king inquired of them, he [king Nebuchadnezzar] found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters that were in all his kingdom” (Dn 1:20).
Daniel did not pursue the prophetic life, but rather he was forced into it by a non-Yahwistic society under the teachings of occult priests. He is not said to be in this situation because God wanted him to be, but because he descended from royalty and nobility, because he’s good looking, and because he’s smart (Dn 1:3-4). But as He stays faithful to Yahweh while studying the spiritual world, God gives Him the eyes to be a true Israelite prophet amidst a bunch of false occult wise men. Daniel is not a prophet of the false gods like those he’s studied under, but he stands amidst the false gods and their false prophets as a true prophet of the one true God. For three years he studied a lot of spiritual stuff that we would never teach a good Christian, yet God protected him as he subjected his supernatural learning to God.
This reminds me of a story from the documentary Furious Love. While director Darren Wilson and Vineyard pastor Robby Dawkins were evangelizing to people at a New Age festival, one New Age practitioner named Sammy gave his life to Christ and quickly had “a vision of a man on a white horse with a sword in his hand, and that he was driving dark spirits” from his body (Wilson, Darren, director. Furious Love. WP Films, 2010).
What’s always amazed me about this story is Sammy’s ability to see the picture of a man on a white horse with a sword in his hand. Many Christians instantly recognize this picture of Jesus from the book of Revelation. But how does a New Age practitioner who possibly doesn’t even know this passage have such a clear vision of Jesus that easily? Many of us can’t recall having such a radical vision the moment we got saved. Why is Sammy so different and so clear about what he’s seeing?
The answer seems obvious to me: Sammy was already well-versed in the supernatural from his studies in the occult ways of New Age. As he received prayer from Robby Dawkins, he submitted his supernatural practices to Yahweh and let God show Himself. His visions were turned away from the false beings he had put his passion in before and onto Jesus instead.
I don’t want to say that Sammy had visionary prophetic gifting before this moment, as it is the Holy Spirit who gives such gifting. What I want to say is that he had learned how to engage the spiritual realm from a counterfeit source and in this moment, the Holy Spirit gave him an authentic prophetic vision by opening His spiritual eyes to the one true God. After God had revealed Himself to Sammy in this supernatural way, the Holy Spirit’s prophetic gifting became tangible to him (at least in this moment).
Don’t hear me wrong: The Christian is to avoid the occult like the plague. The Bible is crystal clear that it is forbidden. We are not playing around when we engage this stuff and “You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons. You cannot partake of the table of the Lord and the table of demons” (1 Cor 10:21).
Modern American Christianity has been getting polluted with this kind of stuff as of late. The ease in which Christians seem to try New Age techniques as though they’re neutral practices really bothers me. Though to some extent, it’s the church’s fault for so adamantly denying the supernatural. If the world can’t find it in us, they’ll look elsewhere. But just to be straight—some of us know better and we’re still choosing to look elsewhere.
This is wrong. Jesus is the one with the gifts—come to Him. The Holy Spirit is the best teacher you will ever have. Christians need to stop going to counterfeit sources to learn and churches need to start teaching how the Holy Spirit works so Christians don’t have to learn from those more willing to teach the supernatural than we are.