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Against the Flow

John Lennox



Every once in a while you have that serendipitous experience of wandering into a bookshop intent on just browsing and then you pick up a book that is so good that you just have to buy it. I was in Edinburgh, for the day, with the family and picked up this latest offering from Lennox whilst in the Free Church bookroom (I don’t know if a good FP should admit to frequenting this establishment!). I must confess that as we sat on the Royal Mile eating our evening meal, I was more taken with the contents of the first chapter than I was with the fare.


I was so bubbling with enthusiasm for what I was reading that my dear wife said, I think I want to read that book when you have finished with it. By the time I had worked my way through the book, then I had bought several more copies for a variety of friends. It is excellent, I had read some of his previous books on Evolution and had found him an engaging writer – but, I had been a little disheartened by his conclusions and perhaps, it was the contrast with this experience that made me so enchanted with this book.


His opening chapter begins with ‘Daniel’s story is one of extraordinary faith in God lived out at the pinnacle of executive power in the full glare of public life. It relates the pivotal events in the lives of four friends – Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah – who were born in the tiny state of Judah in the Middle East about two and a half thousand years ago…. Daniel tells us how they eventually rose to the top echelons of power not only in the world empire of Babylon but also in the Medo-Persian empire that succeeded it... What makes the story of their faith remarkable is that they did not simply continue the private devotion to God that they had developed in their homeland, they maintained a high profile public witness in a pluralistic society that became increasingly antagonistic to their faith. That is why their story has such a powerful message for us today.’ Perhaps, that alone is enough to grab the attention for this review.


I like the fact that he defends that historical record of Daniel and doesn’t try to change the dates. The book is beautifully illustrated with a range of the tablets and stellae in different world museums. He takes asides to show how Daniel’s approach at a range of points, has a direct application to the way that we should respond to contemporary issues.


As a child, I grew up calling Daniel, Daniel and not Belteshazzar (his Babylonian name meaning ‘May Marduk protect his life’). Yet, I always called his three friends by their Babylonian names and I think Chapter 4 has cured me of this. Hananiah (The Lord shows grace) gets renamed Shadrach (‘At the command of the moon God’), Mishael (Who is like God – pointing to the uniqueness of the Lord God) is renamed Meshach (Who is like the moon God) and Azariah (The Lord helps) is give Abednego (servant of Nabu – the son of Marduk). Lennox points out this was an attempt to obliterate their concept of the one true God, but we see no recorded mention of protest. Yet, as Lennox also says ‘one can well imagine that among themselves they used their proper names all the time.’


Chapter 8 on the logical structure of the book is useful and shows the mirroring of the passages throughout the book. I also found Chapter 13, dealing with the writing on the wall as particularly pithy. Belshazzar the co-regent, holding a feast and seeing the hand on the wall while drinking from the vessels from the temple is a powerful image. He points out, that Belshazzar would have known all about the drinking vessels and their significance from Daniel (Belteshazzar) and he also knew of the humbling effect of pride on Nebuchadnezzar. When he sees the hand writing in the plaster on the wall, he summons his advisors and promises all kinds of rewards for an interpretation of the writing. The queen enters and guides him to summon Daniel, who arrives at the feast with its thousands of nobles and trembling potentate. He reminds him of Nebuchadnezzar and pronounces God’s verdict. ‘Now, there were two rulers of Babylon in the banqueting hall – the second and the third. One was called Belshazzar, and the other Belteshazzar. It was almost surreal. The names of the men are virtually the same, and their meaning very similar. Perhaps this is why Belshazzar chose to address Daniel by his Hebrew name… Marduk (Bel) who may well have been the main object of worship that night, had signally failed to protect Belshazzar. On the other hand by using Daniel’s Hebrew name, Belshazzar was uttering the words ‘God is my judge’ – for that is what Daniel means.’


The sections on the prophecies are excellent, the only chapter where I might draw away from Lennox was the final one (Chapter 23) on the end times. Here is eschatology gets in the way of his interpretation.

I would recommend the book without reservation, buy it and I am sure you will read it and enjoy it – and what is more you will learn to appreciate the Book of Daniel.