Sunday, March 18, 2018

Daniel (1): How to Resist Temptation

But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat, nor with the wine which he drank.” —Daniel 1:8a

Many times you’ve heard the line from a song written by Philip P. Bliss, “Dare to be a Daniel, dare to stand alone.” Most of the time when we hear this, we think of Daniel in the lions’ den. But “dare to be a Daniel” also applies to the first chapter of the book of Daniel, which is too often “a forgotten chapter.” I would like to consider this chapter with you.

As the book of Daniel opens, we meet Daniel in the college of Babylon. He was probably only fifteen years old. He and three of his Israelitish friends were forced to go to a college in a city where they had no desire to be. They were carried away captive by Nebuchadnezzar to the large city of Babylon, far from home and the temple where they had worshipped God.

Babylon was a worldly city, full of temptations. It was the capital of the vast kingdom over which Nebuchadnezzar was reigning. It was a city with walls as high as towers and so thick that four chariots could safely ride abreast on top of them. Inside, all was luxury. It was the richest city in the world. Hanging gardens, supported by pillars, were sprinkled throughout Babylon.

Babylon was filled with pride, lust, and sin. Daniel and his friends were brought to the two most magnificent buildings in the very heart of Babylon—the king’s palace and the temple of “Bel,” the supreme god of Babylon.

No doubt the Babylonian college was particularly full of temptations. Daniel was immediately confronted with a new way of life. According to the king’s commandments, courtiers were appointed to train these young men, as well as other young men from a variety of conquered countries, so that after three years all the captives were to be true Babylonians—both outwardly in behavior and inwardly in the heart.

Everything had to change to meet the goal and demands of the proud Nebuchadnezzar. Daniel and his friends had to learn the language of Babylon. Only Babylonian clothing could be worn. Their names had to be changed. Instead of being named after the God of Israel they were named after the gods of Babylon. Daniel, which means “God is my judge,” was changed to Belshazzar, “keeper of the hid treasures of Bel.” Hananiah, meaning “the grace of God,” was changed to Shadrach, “inspiration of the sun,” which they also worshipped as a god. Mishael, “the Lord is a strong God,” became Meshach, which means “devoted to the goddess Shach,” the goddess of their feasts. Azariah, meaning “the Lord is a help,” was given the name Abednego, i.e. “servant of Nebo,” the god of fire.

Their food and drink were changed. No longer were they to eat their simple Jewish diet, but now rich foods and wine, both of which had been previously consecrated to idols through the performing of sacrificial rites, were placed before them.

They were instructed in Babylonian education which was filled with heathenism. Babylonian literature, sciences, music, superstition, astrology, soothsaying, sorcery, and religion were the “classes” they had to take.

After three years of thorough indoctrination, Daniel and his friends were to appear before the king as true Babylonians, having forgotten their former life, morals, education, and especially, the God of Israel. Today we would call this “brainwashing,” especially when you consider that in order to achieve that goal, Daniel and his three friends were offered almost anything a natural heart could want. They could live like princes. Nebuchadnezzar would spoil them into forgetfulness of their past and into allegiance to himself.

Dear friends, is the situation really any different today in our world? Babylon rightly became a symbol of the “world.” Perhaps the world today does not tempt you in precisely the same way, but are not its current temptations, albeit somewhat different in content, just as powerful as in Daniel’s day?

Consider worldly language. Is not our “Babylonian” world full of it? Profanity abounds. Secular humanism is even more commonly revealed in the speech of millions. Of the billions of words spoken every day, how many do you think honor God? Of the words that proceed from your mouth, how many are there in a day that glorify and exalt God?

Are matters better with clothing? Let us be honest—much immodest “Babylonian” clothing is worn nearly everywhere in society today. Our clothing conveys a message. What message are you conveying?

With food and drink some of us fare no better. Many eat like a heathen, refusing to acknowledge God as the giver of all that we receive. Are you among them—or else, do you quickly say a prayer without concentrating upon the great God whom you are acknowledging?

“Babylon” is alive and prosperous today—also in its education. All around us today it is taught either that God does not exist at all, or an attempt is made to portray Him as a God who loves everyone. Devil-worship and spirit-worship abound around the world. In fact, the devil has his visible classroom in many homes through television. He uses TV as an effective tool to teach principles contrary to the Ten Commandments hundreds of times every day. He uses radio, newspapers, magazines, books, movies, music, videos, and the internet—all to educate our minds in worldly, unbiblical ways.

“Babylon” is still here. The temptations are great and many, especially for young people. The pride of life, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eye increase ten times faster than inflation, and we are all guilty of them. We are in grave danger of being overcome by the flood of worldliness that sweeps over us and lives within us. Dear friend, has worldliness ever become sin for you? Do you realize how deeply you are prone to drink in its philosophy and its sins? Do you feel its dangers? Are you afraid of the vulnerability of your own worldly hearts?

“Yes,” perhaps you will say, “but did not Daniel have to go along with it? It was not his choice to be in Babylon, was it? After all, was he not in the land of the enemy, and is it not true, ‘when in Rome we must do as the Romans’? If he objected, the king would not hesitate to take his life—surely then he had better compromise somewhat, hadn’t he? Otherwise, he would lose his honorable position and perhaps even his life. And besides, aren’t such things as clothing, food, names, and language rather small things to protest about?”

This was precisely Daniel’s temptation. It is still our temptation today. Many align themselves with the world while professing to be Christians. They attend church faithfully, pray and read the Bible regularly. For the rest of the time, however, they think and act as the world thinks and acts, not wanting to be viewed as being “different.”

Young people, you understand this kind of peer pressure, don’t you? When in school or at work, do you easily go along with “the crowd” or do you pray for strength to resist sin? Mixing Christianity and worldliness, Babylon and Jerusalem, keeping a form of religion but doing away with a separated and godly lifestyle—this is your temptation every day.

Part of this temptation of a mixed lifestyle is that it appears to make daily living so much easier. Little self-denial is needed. It is a lifestyle that can always be positive, can always say “yes”—“yes” to the church, “yes” to the world. How few realize that they are then saying “no” to God! God will not have a mixed, half-hearted people.

Dear young friends, what is your life? Is your talk “Babylonian”? Are you worshipping worldly idols—the idols of entertainment, of riches, of ease, and yes, of sinful self? Are you leading a life of compromise?

Compromise is one of Satan’s favorite words when sin is involved. He likes to take us one step at a time down the slippery slope of iniquity. Gradually he aims to lead us into what has been rightly called “practical atheism”—that is, living as if there were no God.

The first step down this slippery slope begins with abandoning secret prayer. Then the Bible is increasingly neglected. Searching of the Scriptures stops. We reason, “There are more things to do; I am so busy. Besides, we can’t always be so strict; I would not care to have others see me so. It is wrong to be ‘righteous overmuch.’ I won’t let happen what Jesus said must happen: ‘The world must hate you.’ After all, don’t I have to be kind to everyone?”

Such are Satan’s reasonings and devices. More and more conscience is overstepped. Babylon. Compromise. Worldliness. It is a never-ending cycle. Eventually, the slippery slope leads to a whole variety of sins, perhaps even drugs. And all the while, Satan is whispering, “Try it. How do you know what it is like unless you eat with the Babylonians and share their food? You will soon be used to it. It is not so bad. Experiment! You’re old enough.”

What a seemingly easy life Daniel could have had if he had only been willing to compromise! He could still have kept his own religion privately, couldn’t he? All he had to do was go along with these customs but not take them so seriously. By grace, however, Daniel could not compromise. The fear of the Lord was planted in his young heart. He could not be at home in the world. He had to say “no.”
“But Daniel purposed in his heart that he would not defile himself with the portion of the king’s meat, nor with the wine which he drank.” Here lies the secret: “Daniel purposed in his heart.” Not because of parents, church, or any person, but because it was the conviction and desire of his heart. It was not legalism. It was not fear of God’s punishment. It was out of love for the Lord who was so worthy to be feared that “Daniel purposed in his heart” to say “no” to the world.

Daniel desired to walk before the Lord, to live to His honor and glory. He knew from experience: “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” Young people, can you say from the heart that you agree with Daniel? Do you dare to be a Daniel, dare to flee the world, dare to stand alone? Is the divine pressure of God’s Word more weighty for you than the peer pressure of your friends?

There is still another reason “Daniel purposed in his heart” not to defile himself—jealousy. He was jealous for the Lord’s Name; therefore, he would not eat what was offered in the name of other gods. But he was also jealously guarding his own heart. He knew the power of temptation, of the world, and of Satan. He knew his own heart. He knew how quickly his conscience could be dulled, how soon secret prayer could suffer, how quickly communion with God could be broken. Therefore, Daniel “purposed in his heart.”

By grace, Daniel was more afraid of the snares of the devil and the pollutions of sin than of losing his own life. He would rather die than sin. That is not legalism. That is not being “righteous overmuch.” Rather, that is love, God-given love, returning to the God who gave it.

Daniel received the courage to say “no” to sin from his heart as a gracious fruit of the Lord Jesus Christ who purposed in His heart from eternity to say “no” to sin for His entire life on earth. He gave His heart and life to the death of the cross in behalf of His Daniels who were by nature enemies of God but were made to fear and love His Name. May the Lord make us jealous of such Daniels. We often purpose in our minds or consciences, but how different that is from purposing through faith in our hearts!

This is real life, real living, real purpose. “Daniel purposed in his heart not to defile himself.” Let us pray for grace to reject the world’s selfish lifestyles and to seek “first the kingdom of God and his righteousness!”