Laughter in the Bible

I didn’t expect to see the word laugh that often in the Bible. After over 245 episodes of the Bible in a Year podcast, it was the last chapter of Daniel that caught me by surprise. Daniel laughed at the king for his belief in Bel, the god of the Babylonians.

I was familiar with a few of the stories in Daniel, but this one was new to me. The king, who is friends with Daniel, inquires as to why Daniel does not believe Bel to be a living god, based on the amount of food the god consumes. “Daniel began to laugh. ‘Do not be deceived, O king,’ he said; ‘it is only clay inside and bronze outside; it has never taken any food or drink.’” (Dan 14:7) The king is enraged and suggests that the priest prove that Daniel is blaspheming, with the result being either the death of the priests or the death of Daniel. The priests agree and have the king set the food out in the temple and secure the door with his signet. Prior to the sealing of the door, Daniel has ashes distributed on the floor. The next day the seal is unbroken when the king and Daniel return. At first the king is delighted to see the food consumed. “But Daniel laughed and kept the king from entering. ‘Look at the floor,’ he said; ‘whose footprints are these?’ ‘I see the footprints of men, women, and children!’ said the king.” (Dan 14:19-20) The priests then show the hidden entrance by which they and their families come and consume the food, which results in their death.

Not just once, but twice does Daniel laugh in reaction to the king. At first it seems an odd reaction, yet there could be multiple reasons for this. The beginning of the chapter does indicate that Daniel is friends with the sovereign. Perhaps the friendship is so deep, that Daniel’s reaction is one that we would all share if someone we were close to had an incorrect assumption. I don’t think Daniel is laughing at the king, as if the king was inferior to Daniel’s wisdom. I think it shows the true bond of friendship that Daniel had with the king, including laughing at each other’s moments of silliness. 

Another possibility is Daniel’s age. He has been in the courts of several of the Babylonian kings. Perhaps his laughter was more from a wise person who sees the passionate, and stubborn, beliefs of youth. I’m not as fond of this possibility because it does lend itself to Daniel thinking himself superior to the king. Even if Daniel’s age gave  him a higher level of wisdom than the king, the rest of the book of Daniel doesn’t show him as the type to have a superiority complex. 

Lastly, Daniel may have laughed because of his firm belief in the Lord God of his ancestors. Previous stories of Daniel also illustrate wise methods for addressing those who are lying. Perhaps his wisdom is divinely inspired due to his complete and total worship of the one, true God. Daniel relies on God for everything, and even though his life was threatened because of his worship, he was unwavering in his beliefs. Throughout the various rulers, Daniel held fast to his belief in God, and was rewarded with positions of power and relationship with kings. This is the kind of faith in God that I want, one that will have me laughing despite having my earthly life at risk. 

Whether it was one reason or a combination of all three, it was nice to see laughter in the Bible. Perhaps it’s also a bit of a challenge to us to cultivate strong friendships with others, so that we can explore others’ feelings and beliefs and share the good news of our beliefs with them in return.

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