The Troubles Begin
Daniel ch.1 :1-21
The book of Daniel records the deportation of the people of God. This came about because they repeatedly failed to carry out their spiritual and religious obligations despite the warnings they received from God. It is testimony that God means what he says: he keeps his promises whether we want him to or not!
The book focuses mainly upon the history of a man called Daniel. He was deported as a teenager in 605 BC and lived the rest of his life in exile seeing his last vision in 536 BC. Most of Daniel’s years were spent serving the royal court of Babylon, although he also lived through the transition to Medo-Persian rule.
The twelve chapters that make up this book report harrowing stories of judgment and deliverance, as well as graphic prophecies of terror and hope. There are visions of beasts rising and rulers battling, and the atrocities that God’s people would face. Throughout decades of exile, Daniel remained faithful to the LORD God despite all the external opposition and the threat of death he faced. In the midst of all this mayhem the light of hope burned brightly: one day God would establish an everlasting kingdom.
Daniel wrote the book during the 6 th century BC. This is the traditional view and there is no good reason for doubting it. Those who have suggested a much later date of the 3 rd century BC have done so because they could not believe that Daniel could have prophesied so accurately future events and thought the book must have been written after those events had actually occurred! But the God of the Bible is "like no other, declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, ‘My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose," as the prophet Isaiah declared (Is.46:9-10).
How important history is in the Bible! The whole theological meaning of the book depends upon the LORD’s real ability to deliver his people and to accurately declare what will happen in the future before it takes place. If your vision of God does not allow for this then your vision is quite simply too small, way too small!
The book of Daniel includes several theological themes.
1. Divine sovereignty. 2. Worship. 3. Faithfulness. 4. Revelation. 5. Wisdom. 6. Judgment. 7. Deliverance. 8. The kingdom of God.
In the plotline of the Bible, the book of Daniel tells us about the faithfulness of the LORD and the experience of his people during the exile in Babylon and beyond. The book looks forward in a variety of ways to the messianic age and to the kingdom which Jesus has now inaugurated. For example, the fiery furnace of ch.3 and the lions’ den of ch.6 show us two deliverances which foreshadow Jesus’ own later redemptive work.
This morning we are going to focus upon the first chapter.
The people couldn’t say they hadn’t been warned. Again and again the LORD had called upon his people to do what was right and to live according to the terms of the covenant he had made with them. But it was all to no avail; the people were bent on going their own way, on doing their own thing. The time had come and the LORD took action.
Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon, came to besiege Jerusalem and, horror of horrors, the LORD made him victorious over Jehoiakim, the king of Judah.
The victory was comprehensive and to the folk on the ground as Nebuchadnezzar ordered some of the vessels to be taken from the temple and removed to Babylon it must have looked as if their own God had been defeated too and had failed them. These sacred vessels will appear again in later chapters where their reappearance will be significant – so store that away for future reference. For now their removal from Jerusalem serves to highlight extent of Judah’s defeat.
It wasn’t only sacred vessels that Nebuchadnezzar removed either. Following his victory a series of deportations would take place beginning with the deportation of some of the best and most gifted people that Judah possessed. This first deportation would serve at least two purposes: firstly, it would remove potential leaders from Judah so making Babylon’s control easier to exercise and secondly, it would enable Babylon to recruit and train good civil servants for empire business.
Among these bright hopes for the future were four friends: Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. At the time of their deportation they were probably in their teenage years. As far as we know, none of them were ever to see their home county again.
How would they get on? To what dangers would they be exposed and what pressures would be brought to bear upon them? Would they be able to cope? Or would they go down, crushed by the burdens and temptations of godless, unprincipled living?
Well, with a spoiler alert, let me tell you that Daniel would live on into his eighties – and for seven decades he would live a faithful life that honoured his God as he served a foreign power in a foreign land.
As the book of Daniel unfolds we’ll learn more about the pressures that Daniel and his friends experienced and also see what did that enabled them to cope. As we do so may the LORD teach us so that we might not crumble or abandon our faith but that we too might know our God and knowing him we too might in the words of Dan.11:32 "stand firm and take action" or, as the old version puts it, that we might "be strong, and do exploits."
A Programme of Indoctrination
Daniel and his friends were selected for special training. They were bright and promising young men – Nebuchadnezzar thought he could use such men as these only first, if they were to be of use to the Babylonian empire, they had to be properly trained.
The training programme was comprehensive: The culture and the language had to be learned. They were enrolled on a three year university degree course where they could become proficient with the empire’s language and with its literature. Everything was done to help them see things from Babylon’s point of view and to adopt Babylon’s values as their own.
But formal education can only do so much – many other things are picked up along the way in a very different way. The diet of these young men was changed and it was changed in a way that spoke to them about their new and highly privileged status: no longer were they to eat as perhaps they had eaten all their lives up till now but from this moment on they would treated in a very special way. They, amongst a select few, would eat of the king’s own food and drink of the king’s own drink. What an honour! What a luxury! Ah, but all that would come at a cost!
The third element of their training related more directly still to their own actual identity. We know that teenagers growing up often struggle with questions as to their real identity – teenage angst will express itself by crying out "Who am I?" Well, these young men would have their very identity challenged as the names by which they had been known all their lives and which reflected their own origin, culture, religion and values. How important names are! I wonder whether some of you might remember the 1970s TV Series Roots. The main character wanted desperately to hold on to his own name when his new slave owner wanted to change it. He would only give it up under the effects of torture.
Well, these young men whose names each referred to the God of their ancestors - el or Yah – had their names changed to new ones that referred no longer to the God of their Fathers but to one or other of the Babylonian deities.
So in every way imaginable these men were being pressured to give up on their past and their previous identity as the new world order in Babylon sought to squeeze them into its mould! If Babylon had succeeded we wouldn’t have the Book of Daniel to read today – there would be noting worth reading about – but Babylon failed with Daniel and his friends and we thus have a book that is full of hope to consider.
Daniel and his friends resisted the world with all its pressures and temptations but this doesn’t mean that the world has stopped trying to control men and women. The world still tries to squeeze people into its mould today: how well is it succeeding with you?
We have no indication that Daniel and his friends complained about being relocated to Babylon, about being enrolled in the university or about their enforced name change but we do find them taking a stand when it came to food. This brings two questions to mind:
Why might this have been the case?
Daniel makes it clear in his approach to those responsible for him that he did not want to be defiled by what he ate or drank but what did he mean by this?
Some have suggested that the meat and drink from the king’s table would have been offered to idols and so ceremonially contaminated. But it is just as likely that vegetables in Babylon would have been affected in the same way and in any case later in life Daniel, whose entire life was marked by a remarkable faithful consistency, was prepared to eat meat and drink wine (cf. Dan.10:3) so it looks like the issue lay elsewhere.
Over and over in ch.1 the food that Daniel and his friends don’t want to eat is referred to as "the king’s food" and it seems that this was the issue. For Daniel to accept "the king’s food" was to cross a red-line he did not want to cross for it would have signalled his utter dependence upon the king. Accepting these benefits from the king would have put him in the king’s debt in a way he wished to avoid – he might be forced to serve a foreign king in a foreign land but he refused to sell him his soul too.
What lessons can we learn from it?
Daniel chose his battles carefully and we need to do the same. We do not perhaps need to turn every issue into a matter of first importance – we need to know which battles are important for us to fight.
Having decided he was going to fight this battle he went about it with politeness and wisdom and God granted him favour and compassion.
I suppose Daniel could have thrown a tantrum like a toddler throwing his toys out of the pram. "I’m not eating that muck" he might have complained as he pushed his plate ostentatiously away a table. But he didn’t. Instead we find Daniel, having presumably first discussed matters with his friends, speaking to Ashpenaz, the chief eunuch ie. the highest of the palace officials. It was this man who had given Daniel and his friends their new names. There was something about the way Daniel went about it that led to Ashpenaz listening to him with a degree of sympathy – he didn’t immediately report Daniel to Nebuchadnezzar as a dangerous element or as a man to watch.
Yet Ashpenaz was scared of Nebuchadnezzar and so didn’t grant Daniel the permission he asked for. Daniel didn’t give up though and took the risk of speaking to one of Ashpenaz’s underlings this time proposing a trial period. Give us vegetables for 10 days and then compare our condition with that of the other young men. Such a suggestion shows Daniel was confident that doing the right thing God would not let him down. The suggestion was however risky because this official might simply blow the whistle on him and report back his request but once more God honoured Daniel’s faithfulness.
The trial period was however agreed and the outcome fully exonerated Daniel and his friends – they were the healthiest of all the students! But most of all they had healthy consciences – they had stood firm where they believed God would have them take their stand and they were uncontaminated by the proffered honours and privileges that were offered to them.
We might not all have to face things in exactly the same way though if we profess faith in Christ then know of a certainty that the world will try by hook or by crook to squeeze you into its mould. It might be by offering favoured treatment if only you don’t rock the boat or openly reject the values of the majority round about you. What price the quiet life? It may be by promising you satisfaction in the things of this world while not telling you that they all experience rust and decay. It may be by suggesting that it doesn’t matter if your Christian identity is totally removed from you – after all in the world’s opinion one faith is as valid as another.
Of course Christians can be foolish and make unnecessary trouble for themselves by being obnoxious in the way they relate to others and by downright rudeness and thoughtlessness – Daniel’s example tells us that is not the inevitable mark of genuine faithfulness. But what are you doing with your life to demonstrate your faithfulness to Christ and to his cause?
As Daniel and his friends conducted themselves so well in a foreign land isolated from everything that was safe and familiar to them they were a real credit to their parents who had brought them up with such a wise concern to serve and honour the one true God. For some of us our children may have grown up and left home and so our opportunity of preparing them may have passed – but we can pray on for them and what of the influence we may exercise on our grandchildren. How might we help those in the church here who do have young children who still need orienting and direction in life? Can we pray for them? Can we back them by our conduct here in the church so that our children may not be put off from following Christ but encouraged by our own example to do so?
And what was the outcome of these efforts of Daniel and his friends? Although the circumstances were far from ideal they chose to walk the walk of faith and the Lord honoured them for it. At the end of the three years of training these men stood head and shoulders above their contemporaries. Their understanding and wisdom excelled that of their teachers too!
As the chapter ends the author, Daniel, looks forward. He’s been recording his early years of service during the training period. He had laid down some fine foundations for future service and he would stick to his principles. Kings would come and kings would go but Daniel would continue in years of faithful service well into his eighties. May the same be true for all of us. And it can be if we like Daniel know God.