For the next few weeks we will be taking a look at the Book of Daniel during Sunday mornings. The context is very similar to last week when we were looking at Jeremiah with Daniel chapter one set in 605BC, a few years before the final fall of Jerusalem in 586BC. Have a look at the timeline and map in last weeks post God’s word rejected. There were three waves of the Exile in 605, 597 and 586BC. Daniel was part of the first wave in 605BC
Daniels visions and dreams paint a vivid picture of the future that is unsurpassed. The astonishing accuracy has led some liberal teachers to conclude that they were written at a later date; in fact some portray this as the only sensible view. This view seems wholly based on the premise that if a prophecy is accurate it must have been written after the event. There is plenty of information around on the subject but to make it clear as a bible believing Christian, I believe the book’s claims and incidentally so did Jesus just to remove any doubt (Matthew 24:15).
Sunday’s passage tells how Daniel and his three companions are taken from their home and placed in the service of king Nebuchadnezzar. There are some very challenging decisions to be made by these four Jewish youths in a hostile environment. Daniel and his friends are placed under the charge of the king’s chief official in order that they receive training in the culture of Babylon; they are given new names and the privilege of eating the king’s food.
For Daniel and co, the food was an issue since it had probably been used in idol worship and would certainly contained items that would be regarded as unclean. They make a decision and Daniel tactfully puts it to the official who is reluctant to concede but Daniel asked that a test be carried out where the four friends will eat only vegetables and water and then their condition be compared to the other young men. The official agrees and after the ten days Daniel and co are visibly in better health than the others. When their training period is over they are brought to have an audience with the king who finds them to be the most gifted and intelligent of the whole group.
In many ways in the context of the massive scale of the visions within the book, it is a minor incident. Yet Daniel starts as he means to go on and lessons that are learned as a very young man stay with him for a lifetime. These lessons are very relevant for us as believers seeking to live to please God in our day.
Everything had changed for Daniel and his friends, God seemed to have lost out. The god of the Babylonians must be more powerful since the articles from the temple of the Lord were placed in the treasure house of the god of Babylon. What is more, ‘the God’ seems to have become ‘a god’, in a striking parallel with our own culture. Where is God in all this?
The theme of chapter one and the whole book is that God is still at work, he has a plan for his people and the whole world. When we look at the passage it tells us, “The Lord delivered Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, along with some of the articles from the temple of God.” The Lord did it. God delivered on his promise as he always will whether that is a promise to bless or to judge.
Some would see distance from home as an opportunity to rebel. We see it in the way that some behave whilst on a holiday or a business trip The attitude of Daniel and his friends was very different. The choices made by these young men reveal their belief that God was just as much in charge in Babylon as he was in Jerusalem.
To eat the king’s food was a privilege. Perhaps it’s hard for us in the west where food is plentiful to understand what it means to live as many do where each day has no guarantee of food. The difference between what was eaten by the royal court and the food eaten by the poor could not have been more marked.
There was a process going on here, a new name (from God is my judge to Bel’s prince), fill up on the best delicacies that Babylon has to offer and retrain in all the ways of Babylon. Christians face similar choices today, choices of name (reputation, what are we know for?), how much do we indulge ourselves in the world and how much do we take of the world’s learning?
Daniel resolved, he decided that he would cooperate in some things but in others he would play no part. He made choices or ‘drew lines’ in the things that he would do and in things that he would not. Later in chapter six we will see that one of the things that Daniel would always do is pray, with no regard for the pressure he faced or the danger it brought him. Christians should have lines in their lives with things that they do. To read the bible, spend time in prayer and fellowship. There are believers who have clearly not drawn these lines in their lives, they may read the bible, or they may not, they may pray or they may not and they may meet in fellowship but they are just as likely not meet. God has given us these things for our benefit, if you are yet to draw a line on the bible, prayer and fellowship, be a Daniel and resolve in your heart.
In chapter one Daniel resolves not to have anything to do with the king’s food, there were things that he would not do. We are back to drawing lines in the way that we live here, there must be things that we as Christians will not do. There must be lines in our conversation, in what we watch on TV or the internet, in the area of alcohol and many other choices that we make every day. We have to be different and if we are not there is probably something wrong with the choices that we are making.
It is interesting that Daniel did learn the wisdom and language of Babylon, he did not shut himself away but he and his friends are an example to us in the choices that they made. Where are our lines? What is not up for negotiation? Our lines may be in different places, what is right for one may not be right for someone else but there have to be lines somewhere.
Being resolved and being rude are not the same. Daniel shows respect for his superiors. I love Peter’s words “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,” (1 Peter 3:15). Daniel is a good model for us; he sees the situation from the official’s standpoint and uses wisdom. God gave Daniel favour with the officials. In the solution that he proposed it would be only he and his friends that would suffer and not the officials.
Daniel did learn the wisdom of Babylon but crucially he was given wisdom by God. We will see next week that this gift would save many lives. Daniel was faithful in a small thing but God blessed him in a big way. Some would say “why are you so bothered Daniel? Just go with it.” Daniel was not a man to just go with it he learned an important lesson in a small thing and that lesson, to trust God would be such a benefit to Daniel and his friends.
As I write this, Birmingham City FC are enjoying their best season for many years. In August many predicted a long hard battle to retain their status in the Premier League. However in truth they have excelled being unbeaten in a long run games and many are now tipping them for a place in Europe. They are yet to sign any big names but the players have a great team spirit and work ethic, they do lots of little things right. What different lives would we lead if we just got the little things right. We long to hear the words from the Master ’Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’ (Matthew 25:21)
The last verse is easy to overlook but the words, ”Daniel remained there until the first year of King Cyrus” are tremendous. We overlook them because most of us we are unfamiliar with the times and dates. A period of sixty-five years (601-536 BC), kings and kingdoms would come and go. The mighty Babylon would be conquered and replaced but in all that time Daniel stood and spoke of God’s greatness. In chapter one Daniel must have been a young man in his teens. In chapter six (in the lion’s den) he must have been a very old man yet he was still at the heart of government and held in enormous respect and affection by the king. Daniel spoke the word of God faithfully and proclaimed, “There is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries” Daniel 2:28. God is the Lord of history, he had a plan for the nations and a plan for Daniel.
In chapter nine we read that Daniel studied the prophecy of Jeremiah (Daniel 9:2). He was a man of prayer who centered his prayers around the promises of God’s word. From the context it is clear that Daniel was familiar with the letter of Jeremiah twenty nine since he refers to the promise found in verse ten, in fact he is clinging to it. This is no surprise since the letter was written to some of the first people to be exiled in Babylon, people like Daniel and his friends. I like to think of Daniel holding on to the promise we considered last week. “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).
God had great plans for Daniel. He has great plans for us. Let us resolve in our hearts. Let us dare to be Daniels