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)