Have you noticed how much change is happening all around us? We’ve seen a pandemic, lockdowns, fear, riots, inflation and political unrest. Have you ever found yourself in the middle of a crisis that you were not expecting? You get that unexpected diagnosis from your doctor or the sudden news of the death of a loved one. You’re on the receiving end of an untrue accusation. Or it’s an unexpected divorce. The shocking news when a spouse said they were having an affair. Maybe you were forced to deal with an unexpected financial loss.
We are beginning a study of a truly remarkable young man who was forced to deal with many changes very early in his life. I’m referring to the prophet Daniel, who was taken from his homeland into captivity in Babylon when he was only 13 to 15 years old. Daniel was an amazing teenager. He was literally the best that Judah had to offer, he was honor role, who’s who and the valedictorian type.
The words of verses 3 and 4 of our text paint a very thorough picture of just how notable Daniel was. First, these verses say he was from a family of high social status, part of the royal family itself. He was also physically flawless, no doubt a consequence of the fact that his family was wealthy, so Daniel would have had good clothes and the best food, a nice home. Daniel was not only good looking, he was intelligent, bright, quick to understand. Here’s another thing. The Bible says he was “qualified to serve in the king’s palace…” which meant he also had a high level of what we would call “emotional intelligence” or “people smarts.” In other words, Daniel knew how to read people, how to communicate with people, people of all temperaments. He had that rare kind of gracious “give and take” personality that made him very good at dealing with fallen human beings like you and me. But, best of all,Daniel was a Godly young man,absolutely devoted to our Lord and His chosen people. Add all these characteristics together and it’s easy to conclude that Daniel was unique. He was a very special person. Gene Getz puts it this way, “Daniel is one of the few principal characters of the Old Testament concerning whom there is not one word of criticism.”
Like all young men his age, Daniel would have had dreams of how he thought his life would turn out, and coming from nobility as he did, he would have assumed that his dreams were almost certain to come true. Daniel would get a great education under the best Hebrew teachers of his day and then go on to glittering success in whatever field he chose. He’d meet the right girl, build a great marriage, live in an enviable home, raise a wonderful family, and occupy a prominent place in his nation. In short, Daniel would be an overachiever. He would do great things for God and God’s people. He would be a leader in his homeland someone who was looked up to and admired.
But, life did not turn out the way Daniel planned, did it? No, things changed and you can almost feel the heartbreak that came with it in verses 1 and 2 where it says, “Nebuchadnezzar came to Jerusalem and besieged it.”
For a quick review of Hebrew history: The Hebrew people became a nation while in slavery in Egypt. They were delivered under Moses. They wandered in the wilderness for forty years and then finally entered the promised land. After a period of time they reached their peak as a nation under kings David and Solomon. Solomon built the glorious temple ,and then in the kingly administrations that followed there was a long, slow decline fueled by a cycle of rebellion then repentance then rebellion and so on. Soon there was more rebellion than repentance and eventually, the kingdom was divided into a northern kingdom, Israel, which was destroyed, so that all that remained was the Southern kingdom called Judah. Then when Daniel was a young man, Nebuchadnezzar came and with very little effort destroyed all that was left of the nation that was to have been God’s representatives on this world, His holy people, and if you’re thinking, “Why did God let this happen?” I’d remind you that the Hebrews brought it on themselves. They ignored the warnings given by God’s prophets and used their God-given freedom to sin. I like what Warren Wiersbe says about this. He writes, “God would rather have His people living in shameful captivity in a pagan land than living like pagans in the Holy Land and disgracing His name.”
Because of this, everything changed for Daniel. Contrary to any hopes he may have had, Daniel would come to adulthood and spend his life in a foreign land. Instead of being served, he would give his best service to an alien, pagan king. But, understand, he lost much more than his hopes. He lost his culture. He lost most of the relationships he had cherished. He probably lost his parents and siblings. He lost his native tongue and would have to learn to speak a foreign language. In short, he would live and die in a place that he never wanted to be. He would never go home again. Daniel and his three friends would even lose their names, and in his day your name was very significant. We see this in the fact that each of their old names, their Hebrew names, had a reference to God in it. The little syllable “el”, Dani-el and Misha-el, came from El-ohim and the syllable “yah” in Hanania-ah and Azaria-ah, it came from Yah-weh. So their names reminded them that they belonged to God, that they were His.
Daniel’s name literally meant, “the Lord will judge” so through his whole life, every time Daniel had heard his name spoken, it was a reminder, a promise, that, “The Lord will judge. He will set things right. The Lord will see that justice is done.” But now, He’s not Daniel anymore. He was given the name “Belteshazzar” which referred to a pagan Babylonian god and meant, “Bel protect his life.” Can you imagine how that felt to this Godly young man, to hear a pagan prayer every time his name was called, a prayer that made it look like God wasn’t calling the shots anymore? And, the same was true for the re-naming of other three. The name of the true and living God was replaced by the names of the false gods of Babylon. These new names that Nebuchadnezzar gave them were his way of saying, “You have a new king now and a new religion. Give yourself to me. Allow Babylon to define your identity.”
Daniel’s desire for his education changed as well because Nebuchadnezzar said he and his fellow captives were to be educated in a “Babylonian school.” The Babylonians were great builders, calculators, and military strategists, but their religion was steeped in superstition and myth and Daniel along with his three friends were forced to study all this nonsense, they were forced to receive an education that was bathed in a pagan world view. I’m reminded of the way our Christian children often have to study material in secular schools that contradicts what we believe as Christ-followers.
The question we deal with is this: “What do you and I do when we face drastic changes, or when we end up in ‘Babylon?’” This is an important question for us to answer because we all will. If you’re young and life has been fair to you so far, unfairness is coming. There will be “Babylon” times when life does not turn out the way you want or expect. Remember, this is a fallen world, a world where one thing we can expect is that the unexpected, the unfair, the unwanted will happen. In some way or another your dreams will fade or be replaced by nightmares. So, you need to decide, what will you do when this happens?
There’s a whole field in the social sciences that involves the study of people who experience suffering, major crises, or trauma. For example, researchers studied people like POWS from the Korean War, POWs from the war in Vietnam, and the 52 hostages that were held 14 months in Iran during the Carter administration. These studies show that a lot of people are just defeated by unexpected ordeals. When they find themselves in a “Babylon,” they just wither in their spirit. They die on the inside. Others get through the tough times, but just barely. And interestingly enough there are some, a minority, but some, who don’t just survive these traumatic events. They actually enlarge their capacity to handle problems and strengthen their ability to persist even to endure and to be creative. They have actually grown on trauma. Daniel was definitely one of them. With God’s help he not only survived in Babylon, he thrived there. The example he set shows us three characteristics or qualities that will help us to do the same in our own “Babylons.” Here’s the first characteristic we see in the way this remarkable young man responded to a huge unexpected crisis.
- Decide in Advance to Honor God-given Convictions
Daniel refused to live as a passive victim of circumstances beyond his control. He refused to get tangled up in stuff that would cause him to betray his deepest beliefs. In short, Daniel decided to honor God. Look at verse 8 and I want you to note that this is a very important verse. In fact, in many ways it is the hinge point of this entire book of Daniel. Everything turns here. Up until this point the Babylonians seem to have determined everything. They’ve been in the driver’s seat. For example: Nebuchadnezzar determined to conquer Israel. He determined to cart off it’s most sacred objects and its best citizens, people like Daniel. He determined their new names, their new identities. He determined to enroll Daniel and his peers in that Babylonian version of Harvard. He picked their major. He selected the classes they would take and the books they would read. He even selected their college meal plan. They would be fed rich food and wine that came straight from the king’s table.
The easiest thing in the world would have been for Daniel to think he was just a passive victim in all this, a victim of forces way too big for him. But he didn’t do that. And so, as verse 8 says, at this point the initiative in the story shifts. We see this in the way one Hebrew word is used. It’s the word for “resolved” or “determined.” The first two times it’s used to refer to the Babylonians. They are determining this and that. But in verse 8 it’s daniel the captive, Daniel the prisoner, Daniel makes a decision, and at this point the verb is strengthened. It’s as if it is underlined as it says, “Daniel resolved in his heart to honor God.”
Daniel decided, he resolved that enough was enough. He would not defile himself by participating in the meal plan that had been selected for him. So, he went to the dean of the school and said he didn’t want the Adkins diet of all that meat nor did he want a college keg party with all the alcohol he could drink at every meal. And please note, he made this decision before the food was put on the table, before he would be tempted by the smells of that feast which should remind us that we must do our own deciding, we must commit to follow our own convictions before temptation sets in. By then, it’s usually too late.
The reason Daniel did this, the reason he refused this menu is not because he was a vegetarian. He ate meat like any good Hebrew. No, it was because he knew that the meat from the king’s table would have first been offered to a pagan god and so sharing in that food would be the same as honoring that false god. Plus, he knew that Nebuchadnezzar believed that by first offering his food and drink to these gods, he would receive special blessings. And Daniel did not want the king or anyone to conclude that he and his friends had prospered physically, intellectually, and spiritually….because the food they ate and the wine they drank had been offered to pagan gods. In short, he did not want these pagan deities to be honored in anyway whatsoever. And it appears as if these four men were the only ones of these “choice Hebrews” who drew this line in the sand. The rest gave in and pigged out, no Jewish food pun intended.
It took a great deal of courage for Daniel to stand up like this. Nebuchadnezzar was not the kind of leader who cut people a lot of slack. Here’s an example from his life to show you what I mean. In 2nd Kings 25 a puppet king named Zedekiah rebelled against him. Nebuchadnezzar captured Zedekiah and his family and had his sons killed right before Zedekiah’s eyes. Then he had Zedekiah’s eyes put out so that the last thing he saw was his sons being killed. I mean, the dean of the school, Ashpenaz, wasn’t kidding when he said that Nebuchadnezzar would have his head if this turned out poorly. That’s who Daniel is dealing with here. But that doesn’t bother Daniel. He remembered his real name and the message it contained. He believed in his heart that God is the only true judge and he resolves to honor God no matter what. Resilient people, people who survive and thrive in the “Babylons” of life, are like this. They cling to their Christian convictions. They don’t use circumstances that are beyond their control as an excuse to give in to temptation. They build their lives on God’s loving laws and refuse to get tangled up in sin.
And note Daniel’s “people smarts” in the way he went about this. He said, “Let’s just try this for ten days, sir, and then you be the judge.” He exercises amazing initiative, courage, and tact, not to mention faith that God would work and God did, miraculously, because no health food diet will make that kind of difference in 10 days. I can tell you by experience that diets take much longer than that to work. If they always worked that fast, we’d all be skinny! But God worked, and the guard was so impressed with what happened to Daniel and his friends that he took everybody’s steak and wine away and put the whole school on the health food diet.
By the way the word for vegetables here in verse 12 is “ZEROA” and, as Beth Moore points out, it literally meant “everything that grows from sown seed…” so it would have been not just veggies, but fruits, grains, and bread that was made from whole grain, so they ate well.
Is there anywhere in your life where you are getting tempted by sin or ensnared by the world’s ways? Has your “Babylon” pulled you in to some activity that you know God does not approve of?
There is the husband who never intended to lose his family but he decided it was okay to flirt around the boundaries of adultery. He got tangled up in Babylon. There is the business person who decides that cutting an ethical corner here and there will make a ride to the top quicker. Now she’s a getting caught. Or you tried to ease the pain of your Babylon with some sinful pleasure, and now you are feeling the hurt that always comes our way when we live contrary to God’s will.
So many people never intend to sin, but because they don’t decide as Daniel did to stick with their convictions as a child of God, they allow themselves to get pulled in. Friends, the world is tying to tempt us to settle for less than God’s best, why not decide to say NO?! Why not plant your feet firmly and say, “NO, I’m going to be God’s person.”
In the next post we’ll look at two other choices Daniel made that are helpful for us as well.
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