The Apocrypha, Lesson 5: The Greek Portions of Daniel, Pt. 3

Bel and the SerpentEarlier, we learned about the Prayer of Azariah, the Hymn of the Three Young Men, and Susanna.   Today, we study Bel and the Serpent.


Who or What is “Bel”?

The Babylonian god, “Bel” is a variant of the word, “Baal,” which means “Lord” and is another name for the Babylonian god, Marduk.  Non-biblical sources tell us and confirm Marduk was fed vast quantities of food every day.  “Belshazzar,” the last king of Babylon, had Bel as part of his name, which meant “Bel protect the King.”

Bel’s son was Nebo.  “Nebuchadnezzar,” the fourth king of Babylon, had Nebo as part of his name, which meant “Nebo protect the crown.”

  • Isaiah 45:14, 46:1: This is what the Lord says [to the people of Israel]… “Bel bows down, Nebo stoops low.  Idols depicting them are consigned to beasts and cattle.  The images you carry are loaded, as a burden for the weary animal.
  • Jeremiah 50:1-2: The word the Lord spoke against Babylon, against the land of the Chaldeans, through Jeremiah the prophet: “Babylon will be captured; Bel will be put to shame, Marduk filled with terror. Its idols will be disgraced, and her images will be shattered.


Bel and the Serpent, Pt. 1

This story is a parody on idolatry.  The Persian king, Cyrus, believes Bel is a real, living god because he consumes the food and drinks that Cyrus leaves for him every day.  The story of Bel and the Serpent is Daniel’s expose of the truth behind the façade of idolatry. 

14:1 When King Astyages was laid with his fathers, Cyrus the Persian received his kingdom.  2And Daniel was a companion of the king and was the most honored of his friends.

3Now the Babylonians had an idol called Bel, and every day they spent on it twelve bushels of fine flour and forty sheep and fifty gallons of wine.  4The king revered it and went every day to worship it.

Astyages: The last king of Media, who ruled from 585 until 550 B.C.  When Cyrus II of Persia overthrew the Medes, Media became part of the Babylonian Empire.

Cyrus: In 539 BC, Cyrus II of Persia conquered Babylon and seized control of its empire.  His reign as king of Persia began two decades earlier in the 550s BC.

  • What did King Cyrus leave for Bel every day as his offering?


The Showdown

But Daniel worshiped his own God.

5And the king said to him, “Why do you not worship Bel?”  He answered, “Because I do not revere man-made idols, but the living God, who created heaven and earth and has dominion over all flesh.”

6The king said to him, “Do you not think that Bel is a living God?  Do you not see how much he eats and drinks every day?”  7Then Daniel laughed, and said, “Do not be deceived, O king; for this is but clay inside and brass outside, and it never ate or drank anything.”

8Then the king was angry, and he called his priests and said to them, “If you do not tell me who is eating these provisions, you shall die.  9But if you prove that Bel is eating them, Daniel shall die, because he blasphemed against Bel.”  And Daniel said to the king, “Let it be done as you have said.”

  • What does the King believe about Bel? (vs. 6)


  • Why does Daniel confess to the King? (Vs. 5)


  • What does the Cyrus decide to settle the issue about how the real god is?


Related OT Passages:

Isaiah 44:15-17: A person can use a cedar tree to make a fire.  He takes some of it and warms himself.  Yes, he kindles a fire and bakes bread.  But he also fashions a god and worships it; he makes an idol from it and bows down to it.  Half of the wood he burns in the fire; over its embers, he roasts his meat, he eats his roast and is full.  He warms himself and says, “Ah! I am warm in front of the fire.”  From the rest, he makes a god, his idol; he bows down, worships, and prays: “Save me, for you are my god.”

Wisdom 13:10: But miserable are those who set their hopes set on what is lifeless, who give the name “gods” to the works of human hands: Gold and silver fashioned with skill, images of beasts, or useless stone, the work of an ancient hand.


What’s Going On Behind the Scenes at the Temple

10Now there were seventy priests of Bel, besides their wives and children.  And the king went with Daniel into the temple of Bel.  11And the priests of Bel said, “Behold, we are going outside; you yourself, O king, shall set forth the food and mix and place the wine, and shut the door and seal it with your signet.  12And when you return in the morning, if you do not find that Bel has eaten it all, we will die; or else Daniel will, who is telling lies about us.”  13They were unconcerned, for beneath the table they had made a hidden entrance, through which they used to go in regularly and consume the provisions.  14When they had gone out, the king set forth the food for Bel.

  • Unknown to the King, how can the priest access the Temple?


  • What have they been doing, which causes the King to think what?


Then Daniel ordered his servants to bring ashes and they sifted them throughout the whole temple in the presence of the king alone.  Then they went out, shut the door and sealed it with the king’s signet, and departed. 15In the night the priests came with their wives and children, as they were accustomed to do, and ate and drank everything.

  • What does Daniel do?


The Test Results

16Early in the morning the king rose and came, and Daniel with him.  17And the king said, “Are the seals unbroken, Daniel?”  He answered, “They are unbroken, O king.”  18As soon as the doors were opened, the king looked at the table, and shouted in a loud voice, “You are great, O Bel; and with you, there is no deceit, none at all.”

  • What do they find with the seals on the Temple doors?


  • What does this cause Cyrus to conclude?


19Then Daniel laughed, and restrained the king from going in, and said, “Look at the floor, and notice whose footsteps these are.”  20The king said, “I see the footsteps of men and women and children.”

21Then the king was enraged, and he seized the priests and their wives and children; and they showed him the secret doors through which they were accustomed to enter and devour what was on the table.  22Therefore the king put them to death, and gave Bel over to Daniel, who destroyed it and its temple.

  • What did the trap, which Daniel earlier set, now reveal?


  • How does Cyrus react concerning this duplicity by the Babylonian priests?


New-Testament Tie-In

The polemic against idolatry in Bel and the Serpent finds resonates in Paul’s meditation against idolatry as the origin of ignorance and sin in Romans 1:18-32.


Bel and the Serpent, Pt. 2

This portion of Bel and the Serpent contains three sections:

  • Daniel and the Serpent (vs. 23-28), which became the title for this section of Daniel,
  • Daniel in the lions’ den (vs. 31-32, 40-42),
  • and Habakkuk’s journey (vs. 33-39). 

The three sections link to the first portion, vindicating Daniel and his worship of God by verse 28, “He has destroyed Bel, and slain the dragon.”

23There was also a great dragon, which the Babylonians revered.  24And the king said to Daniel, “You cannot deny that this is a living god; so worship him.”  25Daniel said, “I will worship the Lord my God, for he is the living God.  26But if you, O king, will give me permission, I will slay the dragon without sword or club.”  The king said, “I give you permission.”

  • Why did the Babylonians consider the dragon to be a god?


  • How does Daniel choose to expose the dragon as not being a god?


27Then Daniel took pitch, fat, and hair, and boiled them together and made cakes, which he fed to the dragon.  The dragon ate them, and burst open.  And Daniel said, “See what you have been worshiping!”

28When the Babylonians heard it, they were very indignant and conspired against the king, saying, “The king has become a Jew; he has destroyed Bel, and slain the dragon, and slaughtered the priests.”  29Going to the king, they said, “Hand Daniel over to us, or else we will kill you and your household.”  30The king saw that they were pressing him hard, and under compulsion he handed Daniel over to them.  31They threw Daniel into the lions’ den…

This is the second time such a fate has come to Daniel (see Dan 6:16-28 for the first).  As in the first episode, he is unharmed, only to see his opponents hurled into the pit and devoured by the lions.

  • What did Daniel’s concoction cause to happen to the serpent?


  • Instead of the people repenting of their false understanding of what is a god, how do they respond?


  • What can we learn from their bad example when we find something we cherish to be wrong?


  • What additional information do we learn about why Daniel went into the lion’s den?



Habakkuk: A prophet who also foretold the Babylonian conquest of Judah and Jerusalem.  He lived in the in the sixth century B.C.  The Book of Habakkuk contains his writing, which are included in the “Minor Prophets” of the Old Testament.

In this episode, we see how God provided for Daniel when He was in the lion’s den.

33Now the prophet Habakkuk was in Judea.  He had boiled pottage and had broken bread into a bowl, and was going into the field to take it to the reapers.  34But the angel of the Lord said to Habakkuk, “Take the dinner which you have to Babylon, to Daniel, in the lions’ den.”  35Habakkuk said, “Sir, I have never seen Babylon, and I know nothing about the den.”

  • What was Habakkuk about to do when “the angel of the Lord” appeared to him?


  • What is Habakkuk told to do?


36Then the angel of the Lord took him by the crown of his head, and lifted him by his hair and set him down in Babylon, right over the den, with the rushing sound of the wind itself.

37Then Habakkuk shouted, “Daniel, Daniel!  Take the dinner which God has sent you.”  38And Daniel said, “You have remembered me, O God, and have not forsaken those who love you.”  39So Daniel arose and ate.  And the angel of God immediately returned Habakkuk to his own place.

“by his hair”:  Though this sound strange to us, Ezekiel also mentions the same occurring to him: “He stretched out what appeared to be a hand and took me by the hair of my head.  Then the Spirit lifted me up between earth and heaven and in visions of God he took me to Jerusalem…” (Ezekiel 8:3).

  • How does Daniel respond to God’s care of him?


40On the seventh day the king came to mourn for Daniel.  When he came to the den he looked in, and there sat Daniel.  41And the king shouted with a loud voice, “You are great, O Lord, the God of Daniel, and there is no other besides you!”  42And he pulled Daniel out and threw into the den the men who had attempted his destruction, and they were devoured immediately before his eyes.

  • What does the King finally realize about the God in whom Daniel trusts?


“You are great…”:  Earlier, Cyrus exclaimed, “You are great, O Bel; and with you, there is no deceit, none at all.”  Now he exclaims, “You are great, O Lord, the God of Daniel, and there is no other besides you!”  Cyrus confesses Yahweh as the only true God (Deuteronomy 4:39, 32:39; Isaiah 45:5).


Relevancy of Bel and the Serpent

As with the Jews of old, we live in a world where Christians are in the minority (although the largest religion in the world).  How can we understand our claims about God when others may worship false gods with just as much fervency?  Stories like Bel and the Serpent (and the second half of the apocrypha book of Wisdom) help us grapple with this question.

In the New Covenant, we do not have a direct linkage between publicly following of God’s Covenant and His public blessing or censure (refer to Exodus 24:3, 7-8; Deuteronomy 28:1, 15; and Luke 13:1-5).  For us, we will experience God’s care and faithfulness in its full at the resurrection, when Christ will call for our new and perfected bodies on the Last Day.

Daniel affirmed, “I do not revere man-made idols, but the living God, who created heaven and earth and has dominion over all flesh” (Daniel 14:5).  The Apostle Paul wrote to Pastor Timothy: “For this reason [the promise of life, both now and the life to come], we labor and strive.  For we set our hope in the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe” (1 Timothy 4:10).


Lutheran Tie-In

Luther wrote:

Here follow several pieces which we did not wish to translate [and include] in the prophet Daniel and in the book of Esther. We have uprooted such cornflowers (because they do not appear in the Hebrew versions of Daniel and Esther).  And yet, to keep them from perishing, we have put them here in a kind of special little spice garden or flower bed since much that is good, especially the hymn of praise, Benedicite, is to be found in them.

But the texts of Susanna, and of Bel, Habakkuk, and the Dragon, seem like beautiful religious fictions, such as Judith and Tobit, for their names indicate as much.  For example, Susanna means a rose [ “lily”], that is, a nice pious land and folk, or a group of poor people among the thorns; Daniel means a judge, and so on.  Be the story as it may, it can all be easily interpreted in terms of the state, the home, or the devout company of the faithful.  [Luther’s Works, vol. 35, pgs. 353-354]


Link to the next Lesson in this series.


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