Ok. Here’s my problem: there is simply too much to write about that is wrong with the History Channel’s presentation of The Bible! I can’t do it, I tell you!! But let me summarize some recurring themes and then get to what was the worst about last night’s presentation.
What have been the recurring themes? They have been:
2. “God is with us!”
3. Human accomplishment
Part 3 was no different.
Empty Battle Cry
Let’s be clear: this version of the Bible is all about the people and what they did. (Did the narrator just say that Moses earned his people’s freedom from slavery? Way to go Moses!). Yes, we hear the constant refrain “God is with us!” But when we hear it, it smacks of human machination and doesn’t seem to reflect any real sense that God is part of the story. In fact, God hasn’t really shown up. I get no sense that God is doing anything but that the people are accomplishing much through violence. No sense of the love of God. (Can the love of God be found in the Old Testament? Yes!) No sense of the thread of redemption that runs through the Bible from start to finish. No sign of the God Who, from the very beginning in the garden, wants to be with His people. If these things are absent, the refrain “God is with us!” misses its mark and seems hollow.
O Daniel, We Never Knew Ye!
I’m going to skip Zedekiah. I’m sure there’s plenty to share but my head is so dizzy from being transported all the way from David to Zedekiah—passing over Solomon (the wisest man in history), Elijah, Elisha, Jonah, and Hezekiah (probably not enough opportunities in those stories to feed the show’s major theme, which is violence; but would have been great opportunities to see the power, love, and forgiveness of God)—that I only have a little strength left. So let’s get to that “sniveling coward” Daniel.
So, of course, never letting the Scriptural details of the real story get in the way, the opening story involving Daniel is truncated, reduced, and hacked, thereby missing a great opportunity to show that Daniel was a strong but humble and compassionate man of God who prayed and heard from God; a chance to exalt God as Daniel does after praying and receiving from God the revelation of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream:
17 Then Daniel returned to his house and explained the matter to his friends Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. 18 He urged them to plead for mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery, so that he and his friends might not be executed with the rest of the wise men of Babylon. 19 During the night the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision. Then Daniel praised the God of heaven 20 and said: “Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his. 21 He changes times and seasons; he sets up kings and deposes them. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning. 22 He reveals deep and hidden things; he knows what lies in darkness, and light dwells with him. 23 I thank and praise you, O God of my fathers: You have given me wisdom and power, you have made known to me what we asked of you, you have made known to us the dream of the king (Daniel 2:17-23).”
And forget about the fact that when Daniel revealed the dream and its interpretation, “Nebuchadnezzar fell down prostrate before Daniel and paid him honor and ordered that an offering and incense be presented to him.” Then he said to Daniel, “Surely your God is the God of gods and the Lord of kings and a revealer of mysteries . . . (Daniel 2:46-47).” Oh well.
Daniel to the Three Hebrew Children: “Don’t do it!”
So, next we overhear as Daniel and the three young men Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah (better known to us as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego) are arguing as Azariah expresses to Daniel his weariness with captivity and subservience to Nebuchadnezzar. They are apparently on their way out to the field where the big golden idol of Nebuchadnezzar has been set up where all will be expected to bow before it. (Hey, at least the statue looks cool!) And then I can’t believe my ears: Did I just hear Daniel say to Azariah, who, along with his friends, intends not to bow down, “Don’t do this! He’ll kill you!”? Imagine that version of the story as it gets played out around the little table at the Primary class in Sunday School:
“Kids, Shadrach and Meshach and Abednego refused to bow down to Nebuchadnezzar’s idol even though Daniel encouraged them not to resist.”
That would never happen in the Primary class. Why? Because the Primary class doesn’t deal with aspects of the Bible that are not actually in the Bible! Daniel is not a part of the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. When you try to put him in the story you are forced to interject things that did not happen!
The visual depiction of the three Hebrew children in the moment they refuse to bow down captures the event pretty well. Then it is ruined by the continuation of the story where it is not so much the words that Daniel speaks to Nebuchadnezzar but the terrible look of fear and worry on his face. Not the hero we find in the real Bible.
Then comes the anticlimax of the story. The three Hebrew children are thrown into the fiery furnace (which is no furnace but essentially a stake to which the three are tied). Oil is added and Old Neb himself throws the torch in. (Of course this is entirely inaccurate but we’ve grown accustomed to that.) We hear one of the them weeping, “Please save me.” The fire starts and we hear the worst kind of screaming from the three fearful Hebrew children. There’s no sign of the three Hebrew men from the real Bible who stood before Nebuchadnezzar and said:
“O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and he will rescue us from your hand, O king. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”
Daniel is in agony. Then it is discovered that they are not burning up and the look of surprise on Daniel’s face is noteworthy. Daniel seems to come to faith right there!
Then comes the pep rally as Daniel cries, “People of Judah! Rise! God is with us! He’s with us! God is with us!” That’s ok. I’m sure they were excited and amazed. But Daniel seems to be so amazed at the fact. Then the narrator tells us that the miracle in the fire unites the Jewish people and they reaffirm their trust in God.” If only Scripture indicated that.
Is this Egypt?
Next we see a spiteful Daniel visit Nebuchadnezzar and rebuke him while expressing his own sense of despair over being trapped in exile. (Of course the details of Nebuchadnezzar’s reduction to what was essentially an animal are truncated and we don’t get to see Him exalt the God of heaven as it is seen in the actual Bible. But, that’s show business.)
Why TV Daniel’s attitude is so odd, and TV Azariah’s frustration as well, is that the situation they are in is not an undeserved enslavement by Egypt. They have been carried into exile because they refused to repent and follow God! God raised up Nebuchadnezzar to do just what he did! (Tough to swallow, I know. Habakkuk didn’t like it either!) If Azariah and Daniel want to be angry they should be angry at themselves and their people for not trusting God! The real Daniel and Azariah knew that!
Now, we experience a strange time travel where we skip over the actual kings that came next and jump to Cyrus, BUT we get the story of Daniel in the Lions den that actually happened when Darius was king. I can only imagine how it must have looked on the Hollywood set:
Roma/Burnett: “Uh, King Darius, we’re cutting your part. We need this to happen later with Cyrus.”
King Darius: “But Roma, the story . . .”
Roma/Burnett: “Could someone get Darius out of here? He’s getting in the way of our story!”
Oh, that’s enough for now. Why does any of this matter? Because this is the Bible we are talking about. Because never before have I seen such an assault on the authority of the Bible from inside the church! Because if a pastor twisted the details like this to make his story better we would call him on it. Because there are those like Phyllis Tickle and others who are welcoming the demise of sola Scriptura. Because Genesis 1-3 are under assault. Because evangelicals are beginning to accept homosexuality by reinterpreting Scripture. Because the believing Church seems to have trouble discerning which things are excellent and which things are not. Because it is getting to where we accept everything for fear of hurting someone’s feelings. Because the believing Church is responsible for the message.