The Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Jews

In the Septuagint there are three additions to the book of Daniel: The Prayer of Azariah and the Song of the Three Jews, Susanna, and Bel and the Dragon. The first is inserted in chapter three where we find Daniel’s three friends in Nebudchadnezzar’s furnace. The second and third are placed after the end of the book. All of these additions may have circulated as independent folk tales and liturgies during an earlier time as oral traditions, but they take on a final form around the turn of the first century when the book of Daniel was translated into Greek.
Take note of the structure of the book. Verses 1-22 record a prayer. 23-27 offer a short prose account of the outcome of the trial of the three friends in the furnace. Verses 29-68 record a song of thanksgiving. Remember that these are set during the exile and are likely written and certainly redacted during the period of the Maccabean revolts. Think about those as contexts of persecution and trial. But these are also periods during which Judaism is emerging as a specifically religious phenomenon, as opposed to simply an aspect of the national and political interests of Judah. Without the Temple (during exile) and without the sacrificial system (during the time when Antiochus IV Epiphanes has desecrated the new Temple) the people began to develop new, synagoge-based models of worship. Prayers of confession, sermons, and songs of praise would have figured prominently during these periods. The prayer and song recorded here are very much the kind of thing you would expect to hear in worship. Try to imagine what these would have meant to people in exile and in Jerusalem during Seleucid rule.
Look at the structure of the prayer.
V. 1-5 – What is the character of God?
V. 6-10 – What have the people done wrong?
V. 11-14 – Plea for mercy based on God’s long history with the people
V. 15-18 – In the absence of Temple sacrifice, what can the people offer?
V. 19-22 – Plea for mercy based on character of God and desire for vindication.

If you had to write a prayer of confession for our context, what would it say?
Now look at the structure of the hymn of praise.
V. 29-34 – Direct address ascribing praise to God.
V. 35-41 – Exhortation for the heavenly beings and celestial bodies to praise God.
V. 42-51 – Exhortation for the turning of the seasons and of the day and night to praise God.
V. 52-59 – Exhortation for the inanimate and living creatures of the earth to praise God.
V. 53-65 – Exhortation for human beings to praise God.
V. 66-68 – Exhortation for individuals to praise God, ending with appeal to the nature of God.

Notice how the song joins human praise to the praise of all creation. It slowly narrows the focus of praise from the vast structures of the cosmos, to the weather patterns of the earth, to the living inhabitants of the earth, and finally to the human community. You can see two places in our own liturgy where we do this. First, think about the Prayer of Great Thanksgiving that we offer just before celebrating the Lord’s Supper. Second, remember the words of the Doxology:

Praise God from whom all blessings flow (like v. 29-34)
Praise God all creatures here below (like v. 52-59)
Praise God above ye heavenly host (like v. 25-41)
Praise Father, Son, and Holy Ghost (like v. 67-68)

If you were to compose a hymn of praise, how would you describe the character of God? Who would you exhort to join you in singing this praise?


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