perspectivesI was recently with a group of friends and we were talking about how our perspectives limit our understanding of what we see going on around us everyday and in the news. Everyone in this room can experience the same event, one lady said, but we will all see it somewhat differently because of where we’re coming from. I will see something that “Tim” doesn’t see and he will see something that “Rick” doesn’t see. And I probably need to see what they see and listen to it, because I don’t see it all.

This of course is a fact of life that we are all aware of – just think of a traffic cop taking an accident report! But just as commonly we may not be aware of how much our individual perspective limits what we can imagine to be true. So someone says, You won’t believe what happened to me! And we may not believe it. Even if it’s true.

At the risk of oversimplifying this, let me say that our individual perspectives affect the way we relate to others and how we make decisions about things across the spectrum of life. How we vote. Where our children are schooled. What we think about the economy and our political leaders. The kind of entertainment we permit ourselves to enjoy. Who we turn to for counseling in crisis. Our views on spending and saving. What we think about climate change our nation’s foreign policy. The kind of church we attend, or why we don’t attend. What we drive, where we live, who our friends are. You get the picture. It’s your perspective on life and you are working it out all the time daily in the decisions you make.

The same principle holds true for how we experience the Bible and tell others about it. Just as I would tell that cop how I, myself, witnessed the car wreck, my perspective will also determine how I answer if someone asks What is the meaning of that Bible story? Of course, many people don’t experience the Bible at all. But even so, that is still a perspective. (A friend once told me that he had been talking to a guy who had never heard of Adam and Eve.)

For the past several weeks, we have been exploring the first half of the book of Daniel (chapters 1-6) through the perspective of the wisdom tradition. And here’s an important thing about that. That kind of engagement with the text has helped us to see a Daniel we may not have noticed before. Seeing Daniel through the lens of wisdom made possible insights into Daniel as a statesman/diplomat. Such insights do not emerge, in my experience, when one’s perspective is that of “Daniel the prophet.” You have to turn your head from looking at Daniel the prophet to see Daniel the diplomat.

As one recent commentator aptly said about the Daniel posts: They have “given me a great opportunity to look at him from a perspective that I have not considered. Our society and leaders could find a lot of value in the wise approach of Daniel.” To this I would just add that I hope it will also be of value to us lesser mortals every day, as we make decisions across the spectrum of life.

There is much more that can be said about Daniel the diplomat. But I want to move on now, to look further at what I often call “the diplomacy of wisdom,” as it is seen in other, perhaps surprising, places in Scripture. So let’s now turn our heads from “Ezra the priest” to see “Ezra the shuttle diplomat.”

©2014 by Charles Strohmer

Image by Aphrodite (permission via Creative Commons)


choicesOne of the most distressing dynamics among close colleagues of the same faith or political persuasion can arise when the sticking point of one colleague now means that he or she must diverge from the unity that has been built up among the group. This is particularly true over a big issue. You find yourself at an impasse: “I can’t go with the group on that. I’ve got to go another way on the issue.” The clear departure from what has become the norm for the group may really rock the boat, say, of a particularly crucial church project or public policy, especially if it is a prominent leader who has swerved from what was expected to be unity on the plan of action.

In the three previous posts, we have seen that four devout Jews (Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah) who were officials in the Babylonian government had the same sticking points about their schooling, their diet, and dream interpretation. But these four close colleagues may have had contradictory sticking points on two stunning policies. I am going to speculate a little, here, but there does not seem to be anything in the text that weighs in against what may be imagined here.

One of the two policy events, unfortunately, has been somewhat trivialized in a children’s Bible lesson called the “Tale of the Fiery Furnace.” It is, in fact, as we might say in today’s lingo, a story about religious intolerance (Daniel 3). In short, King Nebuchadnezzar has built a huge statue of gold in the plain of Dura and everyone is required to bow down and worship it. All goes well until Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (to use their Jewish names) make quite a public display of refusing to bow, even when given a second chance. In a fit of rage, Neb has them bound and thrown into a “burning fiery furnace” – perhaps the same one used to refine the gold? But God steps in and saves the three men. The king watches this all take place and is so moved by the rescue that he offers a doxology to The Most High God.

Question: Where was Daniel? What was he doing when his three friends were trussed up and thrown into a roaring blaze? Wasn’t he among all the government officials on the plain of Dura? The text is clear that the king had summoned all of his officials. So why wasn’t Daniel thrown into the roaring blaze? Did he bow to the statue? If so, he clearly had a different sticking point on this matter that did his three Jewish friends. If so, it makes one  wonder what that conversation among the four was like!

sticking pointOne day, however, the roles are apparently reversed, as seen in another famous children’s Bible lesson called “Daniel in the Lions’ Den,” which is really a story of political jealously (Daniel 6). Very briefly, Daniel is now a leading cabinet official in the government of King Darius, who is thinking out loud about making Daniel prime minister over the entire nation. But Daniel’s political enemies are jealous and plot to frame him as a corrupt politician.

When they cannot find any evidence of that, they seek to have him executed on religious grounds. So they con Darius into enacting a religious law of the land that they know Daniel will not obey, and he will have to be executed. Now the king really likes Daniel but he twigs to the con job too late. He deeply regrets that Daniel refuses to obey the new law, but he has no choice in this matter. He sends Daniel off to die and he is “thrown into the lions’ den.” But when God sends an angel to save Daniel, Darius is overjoyed and offers a doxology to “the living God who endures forever.”

Question: Where were Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah? What was their position on the new religious policy? Did they obey it? If not, why weren’t they also thrown into that den of hungry lions? Or perhaps it wasn’t a sticking point for them, as it was for Daniel.

Nowhere does the book of Daniel, as far as I can tell, preclude us from considering the “Where was?” question I have proposed. The text leaves open the possibility that Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah had contradictory sticking points – as devout Jews and close political allies – on two huge issues at the heart of their religious-political lives.

As I see it, the agency of wisdom left them free in their consciences to believe and act as they would – as the pagan kings’ doxologies put it: To God be the glory.

©2014 by Charles Strohmer

Images by Lauren Macdonald & Aphrodite, respectively (permission, Creative Commons)


identityThe question I want to begin with, here, is why did the four Jewish friends have a sticking point about the king’s menu but not about a change at the heart of their identities? That is, they accept radically different personal names (Daniel 1:7). This must have been a most distasteful compromise to these devout Yahwists, whose birth names are in various ways associated with characteristics of the God of Israel. But when they enter the Chaldean Institute their Hebrew names are formally changed to denote various pagan gods. Although some of these names have not been satisfactorily explained, the following indicates the enormity of the changes:

  • “Hananiah” in Hebrew means Yah has favored [me]. His new name, “Shadrach,” means something like Command of Aku (Aku being a Mesopotamian lunar deity).
  • “Mishael” means Who is what God is? His name is changed to “Meshach,” Who is what Aku is?
  • “Azariah,” whose name means The Lord helps, gets saddled with the “Abednego,” Slave of Nego (or Nebo; Isaiah 46:1). (Some scholars believe that “Abednego” has a relation to “Aradnabu,” Servant of Nabu, who was King Nebuchadnezzar’s personal deity.)
  • “Daniel” – God is my judge or God will judge or Judge of God – becomes “Belteschazzar,” a name similar to “Belshazzar,” a king of Babylon (Daniel 5). Both names stem from “Bel,” the chief god of the Babylonians, but it is unclear what “Belteschazzar” meant, possibly Bel is my prince or Protects the prince’s life.

Personally, I think I would have eaten the king’s food but put my foot down about being called Baalzebub or some such thing. But if these guys had any qualms about being identified with pagan gods, the text is silent about that. Although they submitted to radical changes of name, imagine what it would have been like to have been told – you a pious Jew – to walk around with one of those names and respond to it all the time in the royal court.

So someone asks Daniel, “What’s your name, sir?” To which he has to reply, “Bel is my prince.” Just think what that must have cost his soul as a devout Yahwist. Would it not have been a sticking point for many godly Jews of the time, for whom any association with the gods of the nations was a religious bugaboo? Yet Daniel, who is certainly aware of this deeply inbred religious antipathy, makes not a peep of protest. Apparently it is not a mountain that he, or his three friends, are willing to die on.

Although the text is silent as to why this was not a sticking point for them, we may assume that the changed names was not meant to wipe out their religious identity, for the text is clear that they remained free to worship Yahweh and that they did indeed do that. This, in fact, is consistent with a certain amount of religious freedom that the empire of Babylon  was known for. Instead, the radical changes of name went to the heart of their Jewish national allegiance, and as such served a political purpose. As a political official of Babylon, no way would Daniel be permitted to answer his king or a foreign dignitary who asked “What’s your name?” with the Jewish implications of God is my judge.

If these four Jewish men, then, were to be fully integrated into the Babylonian government, if not into society itself, their allegiance to Israelite nationalism would have to go away, at least symbolically. As with Joseph in Egypt, they would need new names that matched their political status as Babylonian officials. Some scholars believe that the change of names was probably part of an official ceremony in which the four swore allegiance to Babylon as naturalized citizens.

In the next post we will look at two more controversial sticking points in the narrative of Daniel the statesman/diplomat.

©2014 by Charles Strohmer

Image by John Nicholls (used by permission via Creative Commons)


sunsetWhen I talk about wisdom-based diplomacy and negotiations, questions may arise about the approach that wisdom would take toward militants whose core religious-political position is to put a gun to your head and say, “Submit or die.” Although the number of submit-or-die militants is small, everyone today knows what kinds of organized violence and murder they are capable of, on both large and small scales. So let me state categorically that there is no negotiating with submit-or-die ideologues. That, I believe, is a basic principle of the agency of wisdom.

On the other hand, if you want to make peace, you don’t talk to your friends but to your adversaries or enemies. This is where wisdom-based negotiations can excel, even in such contexts as, for instance, U.S. talks with the Iranian regime, or even with Hamas or leaders of the Taliban who are sincerely open to seeking a negotiated peace. I believe that the agency of wisdom not only accepts this principle but is more than able to meet the challenge, to those who are open to it.

It was through a long series of difficult negotiations that apartheid ended in South Africa (1993). Likewise, a peace agreement among a diverse array of religious and political adversaries was reached in Northern Ireland and between the British and Irish governments (1998). Two stunning examples from the Middle East are the Israel-Egypt (1979) and the Israel-Jordan (1994) peace treaties. Many political ideologues in Israel (elsewhere, too) had been arguing that democracy in the Arab world was a necessary precondition for any normalization of relations between Israel (a democracy) and her neighbors. Yet adversaries talked and reached agreements.

Peaceable agreements, however, take place only around a table of adversaries who are willing to negotiate. So let me again state that there is no place at the table for submit-or-die militants. Wisdom is no fool.

Nevertheless, religious believers with strong core convictions can feel pretty nervous moving to this edge. I get that. I have found it helpful to talk about it in the context of “sticking points,” and here we can learn more from Daniel and his three Jewish colleagues (Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah), who faced some extreme tests of conviction. For they were not wafflers or ungodly compromisers, nor did the play both ends against the middle. They were in fact willing to die for certain beliefs. And for that reason their sticking points provide insight.

For instance, although the four friends from Jerusalem were devoted Jews, when they were in Babylon they were not fussed about rising to positions of political power in what for them was a “pagan” nation. To enter that career entailed being put through a specialized course of studies that would scandalize many Christians. That is, their consciences were clear about something that would be a sticking point for many devout believers today.

lightThat it was not a sticking point for these four Yahwists probably seems odd to us because it does not square with what we think their obedience to the Mosaic law, on which their religious convictions were based, required. But that is our understanding of what was required of them as devout Jews. Clearly it was not their understanding. This, I suspect, was because the interplay of religion and politics was normative throughout the old-world Middle East. No one questioned it. For the peoples of those cultures it was a moot point.

In many of those cultures, but not in Israel, the kings were considered gods or demigods. Yet in Israel’s king-prophet-priest setup, religion did play something of a constitutional role in that nation. Daniel and his three Jewish colleagues were born and raised in this system. In other words, the basic questions that Americans quibble over today about the separation of church and state did not concern the peoples of the old-world Middle East, where secularism was unimaginable.

Religion and politics mixed like soup and water in Babylon. Neither the Chaldeans nor the four Yahwists thought it even remotely strange, never mind impossible, that officials with different core religious beliefs served alongside one another in the political decision making of the nation. They just got on with it. And in that sense it was not unlike the American political system and other Western governments today, but quite unlike governments in Muslim majority countries in the Middle East where those in office must hold to the same core religious belief.

Further, the religious-political edifice of Babylon was a legal construct backed by law, and government officials of any accepted religion were protected by that law. So much so that when Daniel’s political enemies go so far as to conspire to get him killed, they have to resort to getting a law passed to frame Daniel, for they want it to be seen publicly as a proper act of government (Daniel 6:1-24). (A similarly motivated political frame-up job is concocted against Naboth by the politically astute Jezebel, King Ahab’s consort; 1 Kings 21.)

One of the sticking points, then, that concerned the four Yahwists was not “should we enter Babylonian politics?” The question was “where should we draw the red line as insiders? Where will we dig in our heels and say This far but no farther.” So, as we have seen in previous posts, they would not eat from the king’s menu and they would not rely on “occult” practices as their source for interpreting dreams and visions.

In the next post, I will ask some awkward questions about why these devout Yahwists had dissimilar sticking points among themselves on some life-or-death issues.

©2014 by Charles Strohmer


sticking pointsThis series of posts on Daniel has been considering how Daniel’s education and tutoring in the wisdom tradition equipped him with the skills of a statesman/diplomat. We have been interested in puzzling out insights related to that role rather than to Daniel’s role as a prophet. So far, we have looked at several key narratives that show how Daniel gained and exercised exceptional diplomatic skill:

  • Daniel’s wisdom-based education in both Jerusalem and Babylon;
  • Daniel’s meteoric rise to renown in the Babylonian royal court as a devout Jew serving with distinction at the highest levels of government;
  • his irenic attitude and style of communication;
  • his respect not only for the king but for his Chaldean colleagues, including those advisers called astrologers;
  • and his esprit de corps with his Chaldean colleagues in government.

In these next posts I want to wrap up our time with Daniel the statesman/diplomat by considering:

  • Daniel’s non-retaliatory actions toward his political enemies;
  • how his wisdom-based way of reasoning bore fruit in political-religious controversies within the royal court;
  • and the different, possibly contradictory, sticking points between Daniel and his three Jewish colleagues in the Babylonian system.

Over the years, I have found it helpful to talk about these three features in the context of “sticking points,” so I will do that here. Knowing what one’s sticking points are in a given situation, and honest and open talk about them with others, is actually quite crucial because there may arise the mistaken notion that with wisdom “anything goes.” Not so. At the other extreme, there may be present arise a very real nervousness in which the word such as “compromise” and  “accommodation” seem like swear words to people who don’t swear.

There are of course compromises that are not wise. On the other hand, a wise compromise may never see the light of day because one of the parties is overly nervous about seeking any sort of agreement with the other. I hope that insights we gained from Daniel’s attitude toward the king’s menu have shown that you can have your sticking point yet still negotiate an acceptable compromise agreement. But the Daniel narrative offers us even more challenging insights about sticking points, which we will consider beginning in the next post.

©2014 by Charles Strohmer


skill in wisdomWe have been considering a Daniel who was not trained in the prophetic tradition but in the wisdom tradition. The two traditions have different purposes, different functions, different styles of communication. Like the carefully tuned strings upon a fine instrument, tradition and tone must agree. Prophets often make absolute demands; diplomats negotiate.

Daniel was trained in the wisdom tradition as a diplomatic person. As such, his style of communication was consistent with that of a negotiator seeking to bring about policies for the common good. In that capacity he worked alongside his Chaldean colleagues in government. This a vital feature of what I call the “wisdom norm of skill” (skillful diplomacy, in this case), and it requires a manner of communication and behavior attuned to that norm. Daniel would have understood that from his education in wisdom, and we never see him abusing or breaking that norm.

Daniel’s style, tone, and behavior in the royal court speaks volumes about the wisdom norm of skill. Here, I just want to explore how it is a feature of wisdom that seems essential to the esprit de corps Daniel had with his Chaldean colleagues. (Several previous posts have discussed the wisdom norms of peaceableness, relations, and mutuality. Here you will find a brief description of what a norm is.)

Daniel’s role as a negotiator and peacemaker in the royal court continued after his schooling in many and varied ways. He is always shown as seeking peaceful resolutions to whatever contradictory person, situation, or predicament concerns him. I have written about this elsewhere. Here, I just want to summarize some insights into one hairy situation that I call “saving the political astrologers” – a narrative I also like because it utilizes some diplomatic humor.

Apparently, the incident takes place early on in Daniel’s career, at a time when he is not well known to the king. But that is about to change. The king, Nebuchadnezzar, has just awoken from a terribly disturbing dream. He can’t shake it and knows it is significant, but he hasn’t a clue to its meaning. So he assembles his Chaldean dream team to get the interpretation. Problem is, the king does not trust these guys. To him, the dream team are a bunch pragmatists seeking to manipulate the interpretation once they have the dream. So the king decides to ask the impossible.

Having assembled them, he demands an interpretation. No problem, O king. Tell us, what was your dream? (Seems a reasonable request.) But the king then declares that they must tell him what he dreamed, and then interpret it, and if they cannot do that, he says, it’s the firing squad for you guys. An argument that now erupts shows the utter disbelief of the dream team facing the adamancy of the king, whose word is absolute.

The dream team explain to the king why, according to their lights, his request is impossible: Only the gods could tell the king his dream, but, O king, the gods are not saying because they do not live among us. But the king just digs his heels in. No! Tell me my dream!

“There is not a man on earth who can do what they kings asks!” they reply. “No king, however great and mighty, has ever asked such a thing of any magician or enchanter or astrologer. What the king asks is too difficult.” Their language, here, is embedded with a subtle insult: You’re stupid for requiring the dream because that’s impossible, as anyone in their right mind would know!

Mind you, they were, hehe, using diplomatic language! But the king sees through it. The hidden insult infuriates him and he issues his severe decree that “all the wise men of Babylon,” which included Daniel and his three friends, are to be put to death.

Some intrigue then takes place behind the scenes. Daniel, who for some reason was not among the assembled dream team, negotiates with Arioch, the commander of the king’s guard, to buy some time with the king. That occurs, and during the night the mystery is revealed to Daniel in a vision. The next day he reveals both the dream and its interpretation to the king, who cancels the executions. (See Daniel chapter two for the entire story.)

The takeaway for us, here, is not the divine intervention, though there is that, but the human feature of Daniel’s esprit de corps with Arioch and especially with the Chaldean dream team. It ran so deep that it appears to have been quite normal for Daniel to negotiate to save their lives. (Echoes of the Joseph story in Genesis?)

light of wisdomYes, Daniel’s life was also on the line. But when Daniel eventually stands before the king, the text indicates that he prefaced his remarks with a skilled apologetic in defense of the dream team. It is the mediatorial Daniel, and it gets the dream team off the hook.

I remember when this became clear to me. Would prophets such as Isaiah and Jeremiah, I wondered, who said condemnatory things about astrologers and like-minded others in “pagan” royal courts, have have defended this dream team?

This is normative behavior for Daniel, who is part of a shared diplomatic culture in which a sense of common purpose exists among officials in the royal court. Daniel received wisdom instruction not just in political methods and procedures but in conduct, attitude, norms of behavior, conflict management, and other essentials of diplomatic skill.

He is a career insider among the wise. He works alongside Chaldeans. It is a network of long-term pluralistic relationships within the state that requires a means of getting along with others for the sake of peace and common good. Using “wisdom and tact” (2:14; see Proverbs 16:23), Daniel therefore negotiates with Arioch to buy some time to resolve the crisis.

The agency of wisdom is provided Daniel with diplomatic skill, which we see him exercising consistently. There is no indication that Daniel ever uttered bellicose words or sought to alienate. Abusive speech increases the rift between parties. Diplomatic speech seeks to bring people together to find peaceable arrangements or agreements.

This is something we ought to give a great deal of serious thought to, given the name-calling, ad hominem attacks, bitter polemics, and demonizing of the other that is poisoning the blood stream of our national and international relations today, and which passes as wisdom to some.

©2014 by Charles Strohmer

Top image by Niels Linneberg (permission via Creative Commons)


wisdom of pulling togetherIf we think about their political or religious ideologies as individuals, the Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif, the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, and the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavaro live in three different worlds. It is hard to image them ever being friends who just hang out together. But when they are functioning in their roles as diplomats negotiating with one another, an esprit de corps exists among them as members of an elite international community. This too could seem rather surprising, actually, given that they are representatives of nations whose foreign policies often clash.

But this is part of diplomatic life on the international stage. We can see it in action in Daniel’s life as a statesman-diplomat. Although a devout Jew, his esprit de corps with his Chaldean colleagues in government is apparent. In previous posts we have seen a Daniel who, in the wisdom schools of both Jerusalem and Babylon, was tutored in a style and tone of communication and behavior to function as diplomatic official and negotiator. This, we saw, contrasted to the style and tone of someone functioning in the prophetic tradition.

Spokespersons in the prophetic style, at least in the Bible, were often sharply confrontative when speaking the truth to power. Unlike negotiators, the prophets do not seem to be interested in reaching midpoints conducive to common ground agreements across boundaries. One cannot imagine Elijah the prophet sitting across the table trying to find common ground with the prophets of Baal. “A sword against the Babylonians!” the prophet Jeremiah shouts (50:35), with an eye to its officials (śārîm) and wise men (hakāmīm), whose policies are arrogant and oppressive. That is hardly the cry of a diplomat. Examples such as these are easy to come by in the prophetic literature.

There is no negotiating with a prophet who is making absolute demands. But we never see Daniel doing that, and there is no indication in the book of Daniel that he ever would have done so in any of his roles as a government official in Babylon. Bellicosity just does not seem to have been part of Daniel’s DNA. It is not that Daniel does not hold strong religious convictions, or that he is a Caspar Milkquetoast, or that he is blind to the core differences between his worldview and that of the his Chaldean colleagues.

What’s the deal then? Look at it this way. “War of words” is not an image synonymous with the peaceableness of the wisdom tradition. Further, Daniel is in Babylon and he has been told by Jeremiah to seek the shalom of the city.

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. Also, seek the peace [shalom] and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Jeremiah 29:4-7

It would seem unlikely that Daniel had not read, or had not been apprised of, the contents of, that letter from Jeremiah to the Jewish exiles in Babylon to seek the peace (shalom) of the city. Having been trained in wisdom, both in Jerusalem and in Babylon, Daniel would know exactly what Jeremiah was on about. And through his training in the wisdom schools he would know how to lead and model shalom in what for the Jews was nightmare situation (see the book of Lamentations).

Next time we will look at how Daniel’s esprit de corp with his Chaldean colleagues played a role in taking Jeremiah’s words to heart amid a life-threatening situation.

©2014 by Charles Strohmer


moment of truthDaniel has been hauled off to Babylon from Jerusalem. He is now a scholar in a new school, the Chaldean Institute, being tutored for three years to become an official in King Nebuchadnezzar’s government. When we left off last time, Daniel was negotiating with Ashpenaz, the head tutor, to change his, Daniel’s, diet. Goodwill is flowing between both parties but no decision has yet been reached. And now things get tense around the table.

Our text is Daniel 1:8-16, and Ashpenaz is now explaining to Daniel why he is afraid to change the diet. Hey, look, I like you. You’re sharp dude and you’re being fast-tracked to serve in government, but it’s way too risky for me to change your diet. You trying to get me killed? The king will have my head on a platter if he sees you looking worse than the other pupils (1:10). What to do? We don’t see a Daniel who now goes at Ashpenaz with abrasive speech or by resorting to demands. Nor does he mount a learned attack on the educational system or slam “pagan customs” about eating food from the king’s table. He keeps negotiating. He stays at the table and suggests a closed-door experiment, a dietary test, for himself and his three Jewish colleagues (Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah), who were apparently in on this, with Daniel as spokesperson for their side.

Ashpenaz agrees. Fast forward ten days. Daniel and his three friends have passed the test with flying colors and Ashpenaz has ordered their diet permanently changed. Looking back, it is tempting to see the whole process as a carefully orchestrated piece of negotiations by a budding diplomat, and Daniel won, right? But look closely. Daniel was being asked to risk his life too.

Negotiations, the art of diplomacy, always consists of more than one person, with a win-win outcome the preferred goal. Around that table were five persons, and Ashpenaz was being asked to risk his life by one of them. He needed a good and sufficient reason from Daniel before he would even think about agreeing to Daniel’s odd request to bend the rules. And even then he might not, since his life was on the line.

wisdomNegotiations include ensuring that the other side “gets” where you are at. Now Ashpenaz is a seasoned diplomatic figure, and the stakes are so high for him that he is going to make darn sure that Daniel gets that. What to do? By establishing the fact that he could lose his life, Ashpenaz skillfully puts the ball back in Daniel’s court. Suddenly Daniel is now faced with what for him, too, is a mortal risk.

The implied meaning in Ashpenaz’s position is that if Daniel wants to proceed with the dietary test, then his life will also be on the line. Daniel is being asked to meet Ashpenaz halfway. And what a midpoint! Perhaps Ashpenaz wanted to know just how serious Daniel was about this dietary business. As a skilled negotiator, he has now presented Daniel with a face-saving way out if he wants to take it. Daniel could now say, Right, this isn’t a mountain I’m willing to die on. And he could bow out.

Alternatively, Daniel would have to suggest a plan that they could both agree to act on. But that could only be proposed in good conscience by Daniel if this dietary business is a conviction he is willing to risk his life for. If Daniel can convince Ashpenaz that it is, and if Ashpenaz then agrees to act on the closed-door experiment (1:11-16), then the moment of truth as arrived for them both. It will either be a win-win or a lose-lose outcome. These guys were not playing softball.

Yes, it was a clever piece of negotiating by a budding diplomat, but a budding diplomat at the table with a master diplomat, who was tutoring Daniel in the art of negotiations and the wise style of communication that goes with it. Daniel was already proficient in wisdom and Ashpenaz was tasked with helping him to become skilled in wisdom. Apparently he did a superb job of it.

At the end of the three-year period, Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were graduated with honors and presented to the king, who talked with them. “In every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king questioned them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom” (1:20).

©2014 by Charles Strohmer