Scripture: Daniel 1:1–1:21
Today marks five weeks of OGC At Home and we are starting a new series. We are going to walk through the book of Daniel. I planned six months ago that we would start this book today and it’s interesting to me that, in God’s providence, what a good time it is to walk through this book.
Daniel is one of the parts of the Bible we would call apocalyptic. Now, when we hear this word apocalyptic, we think prophecies, end times, and weird beasts. And while those components are here, we can easily forget the main purpose of this genre of literature. The main purpose of this genre is to give believers who are struggling in some way a glimpse into the future that will ease their concern and suffering in the here and now. So, you can see why this is an appropriate time to walk through this book. In Daniel 1 we see that while so much has changed for Daniel, the most important thing has not.
This is good for me to hear because so much has changed in our lives. We rarely leave our home, Angela is homeschooling, there are financial uncertainties, never did I imagine we would be monitoring our kids’ toilet paper use, I’m speaking to a camera instead of a church. The extravert in me is withering. But, in the first chapter of Daniel, we get to see that amidst all the changes we are experiencing, we need to know that the most important things have not changed at all.
So, I just want to look at this chapter and answer those two questions. What has changed for Daniel and what has not.
- What has changed
I love the way this book starts off. It doesn’t say once upon a time. It doesn’t say a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. This isn’t Middle Earth or Narnia. This is a real story rooted in history. It was the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim as king of Judah and the reign of Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon as Babylon was besieging Judah.
On the surface, it really looks like everything has changed. Daniel is probably a teenageer at this point in the story. There were, in fact three massive waves of attacks by the Babylonians against the Israelites starting in 605 BC and lasting about ten years. And it was likely during this first wave that Daniel and these friends were taken from their families. Nebuchadnezzar wanted to take the best of the Israelites, the best brains, the best bodies, and the best social skills and make them true Babylonians.
So, what all did this involve? Well, obviously a change in location. They were taken from Judah to Babylon. They had no more access to their parents (if they were even still alive). They were given new names. Their Heberw names that glorified the God of the Israelites was taken away and they were given names that glorified the Babylonian gods. They were given new languages to learn and speak. They were given new histories to learn, new mythological texts to memorize. They were exposed to a whole new world view. And they were made eunuchs because they were going to have extremely high access to the king’s life.
There was one other change as well that can’t be overlooked. King Nebuchadnezzar, by taking the vessels of the house of God, both animate and inanimate, was making a clear claim. Your God is dead and my gods are alive and in charge.
You know when we have the Olympics, well not this year, but back when we had the Olympics. Two athletes or two teams competed and they are your country’s best, so if that athlete or team wins, your country is the best. If they lose, you live in a loser country. In the same way, the nation who is militarily successful represents the God who is most powerful. So the name of the God of Israel is being dragged through the mud. He’s being laughed at.
I mean, you talk about radical changes. This makes Corona look like a walk in the park. As you read this, you might think that Nebuchadnezzar is really succeeding at making them true Babylonians, that is, until he asks them to share the food and wine with him. That is where Daniel draws a line.
And it sounds like such a weird place to draw a line. I can tell you, if I were going to draw a line, it wouldn’t be at the filet and wine. I would have drawn it somewhere else. So, why the food? Some have suggested that it was dietary. The meats they would be eating were unclean in Jewish law. But that doesn’t explain why he wouldn’t drink the wine. Some suggest the food was offered to idols, but that doesn’t explain why the vegetables were ok. Some say it was symbolic. Sharing the king’s food showed loyalty to him and he wasn’t going to do it. I really don’t know. My guess is that Daniel knew he had to draw the line somewhere and this was it.
I think it’s really amazing that after all these changes, Daniel is going to put his foot down at all. He’s gone this far and is actually looking at a pretty posh life if he just follows the rules. It would have been easy for Daniel to just become a true Babylonian with an affection for his Israelite heritage.
I have had some really encouraging interactions the past couple weeks with people who I think can relate to Daniel at some level. People who had lots of changes and challenges and that caused them to stop coming to church. Some of them didn’t grow up in Orlando, but moved here, hit the ground running and just never connected. Some grew up in church, but were exposed to other worldviews and that challenged the Christian worldview and they stopped going. Others yet, have had a deep emotional or even physical wounds that cause them to question God’s goodness and even his existence. And these people, during this unique crisis have tuned into some of the things we have done online and have communicated that they want to come back. If that’s you, I think Daniel could be a great encouragement.
Daniel’s putting his foot down is a claim of loyalty to God. In the midst of all the changes and challenges we are experiencing, it’s easy for our faith to take a back seat. But Daniel isn’t just trying to survive, he’s looking to trust God because he knows God is the only thing that hasn’t and will never change!
- What hasn’t changed
God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow and Daniel knows this. Daniel knows that nothing about God’s sovereignty has changed. You can see this because three times in this chapter we have the phrase ‘The Lord gave…” The first instance is in verse two where we read ...the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand… - Daniel 1:2
So, clearly God is still sovereign, but that gets uncomfortable very quickly, doesn’t it? God gave Judah over to Babylon. If we are going to say that God is in control of the good things in our life, we need to be willing to say God is in control over what we would call the bad things as well. So, does this call God’s morality into question? How could a good God let this happen?
Well, if you are familiar with your Old Testament, you know the problem isn’t with God, it’s with us and that what God is doing is actually for the good of his people. God had been telling Israel over and over that this very thing would happen if they continue to rebel against him. In Leviticus 26 when God is laying out the blessings of following him and the curses of rebelling, God says if there is repeated rebellion in Israel he would scatter them among the nations and leave them to rot in the land of their enemies.
Then, God graciously warns Israel that they are going down this path of rebellion through the prophet Isaiah. Isaiah confronts King Hezekiah because of his belief that partnering with Babylon will profit them more in their fight with the Assyrians than trusting in God to deliver them.
Isaiah said, 6 wBehold, the days are coming, when all that is in your house, and that which your fathers have stored up till this day, shall be carried to Babylon. Nothing shall be left, says the LORD. 7 xAnd some of your own sons, who will come from you, whom you will father, shall be taken away, and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.” - Isaiah 39:6, 7
And do you know how Hezekiah responds? He said, “So you’re telling me that this is going to fall on the next generation and not me? That I’ll be safe from the Assyrians today? Sounds great! I’ll let the next generations figure that out.” I’m sure there is an application here to the debt we are building up for our grandkids, but I’ll resist that rabbit trail.
The point is this: how can anyone question God’s morality when he gave them such clear instructions? Instructions that lead to human flourishing. Such clear warnings along the way. God is faithful in his promised blessings and he is faithful in his discipline.
But there is another reason here that God’s character can’t be questioned. Because he promises that for those who love him, he will use all our circumstances for his glory and our good. Isn’t that exactly what we see happening in this story? We see it twice in this chapter.
First, when Daniel decides to put his foot down, he goes to the chief of the eunuchs and asks if they could only be fed vegetables and water instead of the meat and wine. This is the second place we see God’s intervention in the form of ‘God gave…’ The text says that God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs. - Daniel 1:9 This man could have turned him in and had him jailed just for requesting to ignore the orders of the king. But, he looks at Daniel and says sympathetically, “Listen, you’ll look ragged if I do that and then my head will be on the line. No.”
Daniel then goes to the steward who the chief eunuch had put over Daniel (so, one notch down in the chain of command) and Daniel asks the same question, but adds the request to test them for ten days and see if they actually look ragged. And here is where we see God working in hard circumstances for Daniels good and God’s glory. They come back in ten days and they are actually noticeably larger! It makes me laugh that there is something called the Daniel diet when Daniel gains weight on it:) Anyway, I digress.
The second way we see God working for Daniel’s good comes with the third intervention (the third ‘God gave’). At the end of their three years of training, the chief of the eunuchs brought them in before king Nebuchadnezzar and the king found them ten times better than anyone else. He was amazed with them. Why? Verse 17 As for these four youths, God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom… - Daniel 1:17 God gave.
How can you question the character of a God after symbolically removing his presence from the temple by having the vessels removed, still graciously cares for his people? And God continues to do that climaxing in Jesus coming to earth and dwelling with us. That word ‘dwell’ is literally tabernacled. The temple (the meeting place between God and man) is no longer a building, it’s Jesus. He was the meeting place between God and man. And that temple took on the full wrath of God in our place so we could be the temples as the Spirit of Jesus Christ, when we believe, dwells in us.
In every part of this story the character of God is affirmed. God gave them all the grace to endure terrible circumstances. God gives them what they need for their call. He gave them the grace to persevere. And he gave them the ability to use those circumstances to propel them into the inner circle of the most powerful man on earth. Onc commentator said, “Sometimes God allows hardships to reach us so his mercy can reach others through us.”
And for the younger people listening, Turner, Collins, and Ivey, this means you! Remember that Daniel is a teenager. Maybe 15 when God calls him to a life that is both unbelievably difficult, but amazingly significant. And he was ready. What are you doing to prepare yourself for the day you leave your parents homes and are bombarded by changes in your life. New location, new worldviews, new authorities, and total freedom to decide how you will live your life. Who you will ultimately follow. The answer to that question starts in small steps of faith your life now.
My favorite part of this whole chapter though is the last verse. It seems totally irrelevant if you don’t know your history. And Daniel fwas there until the first year of gKing Cyrus. - Daniel 1:21 Do you realize what is being said? King Cyrus was king of Persia 65 to 75 years later! Daniel outlasts Nebuchudnezzar. He even outlasts Babylon itself. Kingdoms rise and fall, but God’s people go on.
We can’t ever mistake what might seem like God’s silence for his inactivity or inability. There are only two kingdoms. One is what Paul calls the kingdom of darkness and the other the kingdom of light. Almost every earthly kingdom has in it these two kingdoms at war with each other in a very odd kind of way.
The kingdom of darkness often doesn’t even realize there is such a thing, but their values, goals, and aspirations work against the kingdom of light. The kingdom of light wars against darkness, not through anger or intolerance, but through sacrificial love, calling on those we care about to see a better kingdom with a better King. A King who allows himself to be marred and ridiculed that we might be saved. A King who is sovereign even when we don’t understand and don’t like the events transpiring around us. A King who will deliver us into his fully realized kingdom. And that King is Jesus.
Nebuchadnezzar thought he was making true Babylonians, but he only made stronger and more influential men of the one true God. Daniel knew that nothing about God had changed and that enabled him to look past his present challenges and remain faithful in them.