Wednesday, May 3, 2017

When the World Does Its Worst (Daniel 1:1-21)

Imagine what it must be like to be exiled from home … to be alone and scared? Let me remind you that for Christians this is not AN entirely imaginative exercise. Even though the hostility of this world is not as extreme as for Christians in other parts of the world, we are all exiles here on earth as the adopted sons and daughters of God in Jesus Christ. Which is why the book of Daniel is so relevant a study for us right now.

The central question of the book of Daniel is this: “How can a Christian sing the Lord’s song in a strange land?” We are in a strange land. We are confronted with a culture that is baffling to understand. We are called to sing the Lord’s song in a strange land. As Christians we are in exile. But we have the opportunity by God’s grace to respond to the strangeness of our land. The book of Daniel is responding to the question asked in Psalm 137. As the Psalmist laments being by the River of Babylon and being ordered to sing for his captors, he wrestles with how to sing in that setting. This book of Daniel gives the answer. Daniel is a book written to God’s Old Testament people, Israel, when they were experiencing the brokenness and pain of life in exile, far away from home. Listen to how Daniel’s story of exile begins:

In the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came to Jerusalem and besieged it. And the Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the articles from the temple of God. These he carried off to the temple of his god in Babylonia and put in the treasure house of his god. (Dan. 1:1-2)

How do we deal with exile as Christians in a world that is not our home. Well, here is a story of exile. Daniel helps us with how to cope with exile and this great book of the OT tells us how to cope with it. Let’s talk about that coping this morning, shall we. [If you’d like to follow along…]


Judah’s exile from the land in Daniel’s time was not merely an accident of fate or the tragic result of the imperialism of Babylon in the sixth century BC. The exile came upon Judah because the Lord handed King Jehoiakim over to the power of Nebuchadnezzar. Note that point: God gave his people into the hand of their enemies. God sovereignly ordained this. That’s what sovereignty means: God is in control of it.

The Lord had warned Israel of the consequences of their sins in the OT book of Leviticus. At the beginning of Israel’s history as a nation with God, he made a covenant with them that included blessings for obedience and curses if they disobeyed (Lev. 26). If Israel rebelled against God and persisted in their disobedience, God told the people they would be scattered into exile (Lev. 26:33,39). So, what’s happening in Daniel is this promised exile because of Israel’s persistent disobedience and rebellion against God over many generations. The Lord finally handed them over into the power of their enemies.

Now, the fate of Daniel in being dragged off into exile was not merely a fulfillment of the general covenantal curse of Leviticus 26. It was also the specific fulfillment of the prophecy of Isaiah against the the faithlessness of King Hezekiah of Judah. You see, the Lord was upset with Judah’s King, Hezekiah, because he had accepted gifts from the King of Babylon. You see, the King of Babylon was soliciting Hezekiah’s help and support in his ongoing struggle against the Kingdom of Assyria. And Hezekiah responded positively to the overtures of alliance against Assyria because Assyria was Israel’s enemy too and he feared them, even though the Lord had miraculously delivered Jerusalem from the Assyrians already! And here’s the problem, Hezekiah was being faithless about his Assyrian problem because Hezekiah was now looking to political means for solving this problem through alliances with Babylon. Here’s the point: Politics had replaced trust in the Lord.

This is not merely an ancient temptation. We modern people are so often tempted to place our hopes in political alliances rather than wholeheartedly trusting in the Lord. And the cost may be the loss of our distinctive spiritual voice as the church becomes just one more political action committee. What is it you most trust in? Are you like King Hezekiah? Maybe you invest your career hopes in adopting the world’s methods of getting ahead, only to discover much later the cost of these methods to our homes and families?

The word to us is: Don’t be faithless like Hezekiah - trust in the sovereignty of the Lord God! In the judgment on Hezekiah, the king has lost everything because of his faithlessness, because of his determination not to trust the Lord. All the treasury he coveted was carried off. His sons were enslaved and became eunuch’s in the courts of Babylon. And it is the judgment on Hezekiah that is being rendered in the very opening verses of the Book of Daniel, just as Isaiah had said.

And yet, you and I must see that God is sovereign even in the exile! You see, the future of Israel was not controlled by Babylon or its gods, but by the Lord (Dan. 2:19). The one who had sent them into exile had also promised to be with them in exile, and ultimately to restore them from exile after a time of judgment. The point is that God will not abandon what is his own!

This is an important point. During its hardest moments, life often seems out of control. Your life may seem to lie in the hands of hostile people or impersonal forces. Yet the reality is that your every experience in this world, from the apparently coincidental, to the determined acts of wicked men, lies under the control of your sovereign God. Jesus tells us, ‘Even the sparrow does not fall to the ground without his permission’ (Matt. 10:29). Even the most wicked act of all time, the crucifixion of Jesus, was also the outworking of God’s predetermined purpose (Acts 4:28). So, no sinful act ever catches God by surprise or thwarts his sovereign will. Each circumstance in our life is the Lord’s means of furthering his sanctifying goals. And He will walk through trials and preserve us through them by his grace.


In the sovereign will of God, Daniel and his three friends found themselves exiled in Babylon (Dan. 1:3–7): 

Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, chief of his court officials, to bring in some of the Israelites from the royal family and the nobility—young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace. He was to teach them the language and literature of the Babylonians. The king assigned them a daily amount of food and wine from the king’s table. They were to be trained for three years, and after that they were to enter the king’s service. (Dan. 1:1–5) Among these were some from Judah: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. The chief official gave them new names: to Daniel, the name Belteshazzar; to Hananiah, Shadrach; to Mishael, Meshach; and to Azariah, Abednego.

These four men were still only young teenagers at the time, and in Babylon they were exposed to an intense program of reeducation. 
  • First, their very names were changed. In place of their good Hebrew, Daniel (“God is my judge”), Hananiah (“the Lord is gracious”), Mishael (“Who is what God is?”), and Azariah (“The Lord is a helper”), they were assigned pagan, Babylonian names: Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (1:7). These Babylonian names invoked the help of the Babylonian gods, Marduk, Bel, and Nebo, rather than Israel’s Lord. 
  • Then they were instructed in the language and literature of the Babylonians. They wanted Babylon’s myths and legends to take the place of the Scriptures as the source of their wisdom and worldview (1:4). 
  • Third, they were to be royally supplied from the king’s table, with a daily allowance of food and wine, so that they would become accustomed to a life of dependence on their new master (1:5). 
  • And at the end of this three-year process of re-education, with their previous identity fully obliterated, they would enter the service of Nebuchadnezzar (1:5).
Now, this provides us with a picture of the world’s strategy of spiritual reprograming. Isn’t this how Satan still operates on you today? He may violently persecute believers in some parts of the world, but Satan often works more effectively by seducing us into forgetting God and thinking that our blessings come from somewhere else. You see, he wants you to forget truth - that God is your judge and the One who gives you grace. Satan wants to control the educational process, so that your children grow up immersed in his worldview and his philosophy of life. He wants you to depend on pleasures of this world so he can effectively draw us away from the Lord. His fundamental goal is always to obliterate our memory of the Lord, to reeducate our minds to his way of thinking.

So we need to look honestly at this Babylonian strategy and the resistance of these four young men. As far was possible these men sought to work within the system in which they had been placed. Yet at the same time they honored God and inwardly resisted the assimilation process of the Babylonian empire. In essence, Daniel and his friends maintained dual identities. They didn’t forget God and Who they truly belonged to.

So let’s talk about YOUR dual identity - how can you do it? Surely one way is by taking every opportunity that you can to celebrate your heavenly citizenship with other believers. You should gather week by week in our homes and in our church. In our church services, your goal is not simply to be equipped for more effective lives here on earth, but even more to be reminded of the heavenly realities that truly define who you truly are. This is done as the signs of the kingdom are displayed in our worship services, through the preaching of the Word and the celebration of the sacraments. 
  • As the Word is preached, a heavenly wisdom is proclaimed that runs counter to the wisdom of the world around us. 
  • In baptism, the sign of heavenly citizenship is placed upon us and upon our children, reminding us where our true citizenship lies. 
  • In the Lord’s Supper, we eat our native food, reminding one another of the cost at which our citizenship was bought and of the ultimate feast that awaits us at home. All of these help preserve our true identity.
  • And of course we face the challenge of a thoroughly pagan educational system. Different families will resolve to meet that challenge in different ways. Some Christians will homeschool their children, or send them to a school with a godly, Christian ethos. Others will walk with their children through a public school setting, helping them to stand firm as believers in the midst of the world. Every Christian family needs to recognize the need to train their children. Wherever they are educated, your children need to know and understand the contemporary “language and literature of the Babylonians” and to be armed with biblical discernment into its follies and flaws.
We have quite a task before us. So, let’s see how Daniel resisted assimilation in the Babylonian system. Listen to vv . 8-16:

But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king's food, or with the wine that he drank. Therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself. And God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs, and the chief of the eunuchs said to Daniel, “I fear my lord the king, who assigned your food and your drink; for why should he see that you were in worse condition than the youths who are of your own age? So you would endanger my head with the king.” Then Daniel said to the steward whom the chief of the eunuchs had assigned over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, “Test your servants for ten days; let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. Then let our appearance and the appearance of the youths who eat the king's food be observed by you, and deal with your servants according to what you see.” So he listened to them in this matter, and tested them for ten days. At the end of ten days it was seen that they were better in appearance and fatter in flesh than all the youths who ate the king's food. So the steward took away their food and the wine they were to drink, and gave them vegetables. (Dan. 1:8–16)

First of all, we are told in verse 8 that Daniel resolves to be holy, “…Daniel resolved…” it says.  Daniel purposes that he will not be contaminated by the court of Babylon. Now, Daniel does not do this in an obnoxious and a braggadocio way,  but in a very interesting way:  Daniel and his friends resolve not to eat the food from the king’s table nor to drink his wine.

Now, the issue here was not simply that the Babylonian food was not kosher—that is, prepared according to the Jewish dietary laws. Nor was the issue that the meat and wine had first been offered to Babylonian idols, for that would have been the case with the vegetables as well.

The key to understanding why the four young men abstained from the royal food and wine is noticing that instead they chose to eat only those things that grow naturally—grains and vegetables—and to drink only naturally occurring water (1:12). This suggests that the goal of this simple lifestyle was to be constantly reminded of their dependence upon their creator God for their food, not King Nebuchadnezzar. Dependence on Nebuchadnezzar’s rich food would have been defiling because it would have repeated in their own lives the sin of King Hezekiah that brought this judgment upon God’s people in the first place (see 2 Kings 20:17).

So also we need to build into our daily routines constant reminders of our dependence upon God for all of the good things in our lives. 
  • Even such a simple act as giving thanks for our food may be a profound reminder of who has provided it for us. 
  • Keeping a daily record of the Lord’s gifts to us, from the trivial to the profound, can be another way of keeping our eyes fixed on our Creator. 
  • The practice of fasting—deliberately choosing to abstain from some of the legitimate pleasures and satisfactions in this world—can also be a powerful means to remind ourselves this world is not our home and its gifts are not our real treasure.
“…Daniel resolved…” the text says. How about you…what have you resolved to do to resist the world’s reprograming?


Finally, if you’ll look in verses 17 through 21, we see God honoring Daniel and his friends in their faithfulness.  

As for these four youths, God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom, and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams. At the end of the time, when the king had commanded that they should be brought in, the chief of the eunuchs brought them in before Nebuchadnezzar. And the king spoke with them, and among all of them none was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. Therefore they stood before the king. And in every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters that were in all his kingdom. And Daniel was there until the first year of King Cyrus.

Isn’t God faithful in His mercy? Do you see how He elevates the young men to positions of influence. He puts them in a place in the culture where they will have strategic impact and influence on the Babylonians. And that reminds us that God honors faithfulness. Daniel and his friends excel their peers. God is faithful and sovereign over His servant’s situation.

We are perhaps so familiar with the stories of Daniel and his three friends. As a result, we miss the comfort and encouragement that we can gain from their lives. If the Lord could keep these young men faithful to him in their situation, then he is surely able to keep us faithful to him in our trials and difficulties. No matter how overwhelming our situation may seem, God is able to keep us through it.

There is one final note that we must not miss in all of this. The reality for most of us is that when we look at our lives, we find we are not like Daniel and his three friends. We are far more like the nameless multitude who were deported along with Daniel, who adopted foreign names, ate the king’s food, and altogether became like the Babylonians. In many respects, we are assimilated to the world system in which we live, and our futures are mortgaged to it. So if the message of this book is simply “Be like Daniel and all will be well,” then we might as well stop reading now. The more we get to know Daniel, the more we come to realize that we are not Daniels.

The good news of the gospel, however, is not simply that God is faithful to those who are faithful to him. It is that a Savior has come to deliver faithless and compromised saints like us. Our salvation rests not on our ability to remain undefiled by the world, but rather on the pure and undefiled offering that Jesus has provided in our place. 

Jesus Christ came voluntarily into this world, with all of its pains and trials. He endured far greater temptations and sufferings than Daniel did, or than we ever will (Heb. 4:15). Yet he remained entirely faithful and pure until the very end, without spot or blemish, and grants the perfection of his obedience to all those who trust in him by faith (1 Peter 1:19). What is more, Jesus has already returned from his time of exile and now sits at the Father’s right hand in heaven. He has prepared our places there, and his presence there already is the guarantee that one day we will be with him there as his people. The cross is the means by which God’s faithfulness redeems the unfaithful; the resurrection and ascension are the surety of our inheritance in heaven.

Remind yourself often of this gospel. Fix your eyes on Jesus Christ crucified, raised, and exalted. He has not only pioneered the route home; he is the route home. Trust in him and ask him to work in you a true faithfulness. Ask him to put you in places where you can be a blessing to your community. Be a breath of heavenly wisdom in your home, your school, your workplace. Be constantly dependent upon his sanctifying work, looking to him to keep you faithful.

Look not to your best efforts to “Be a Daniel.” Look to God to keep you faithful. 

Finally, long for the day when his heavenly kingdom will invade this earth and bring the fullness of your inheritance. 

It is only in Jesus Christ that we can stand faithful in our exile. 

It is only in Jesus Christ that we can stand faithfully. 

It is only in Jesus Christ that we can be holy.