Faith at work in Babylon
James R. Cochrane, Abbotsford, Canada [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
Being faithful and having faith
Although not by name, Daniel and his three friends appear to be mentioned in Hebrews chapter 11, the important chapter concerning men and women who lived by faith in God. ‘And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon . . . of David and Samuel and the prophets: who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire’, Heb. 11. 32-34.1 The author elaborates in great detail on the early individuals of faith (e.g., Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham (especially), Jacob and Moses, Joshua (by inference) and Rahab and other unnamed but outstanding women. He now asks the question, ‘And what more shall I say?’ He may be asking, ‘Do I need to write more?’ He may also be suggesting that he lacks the time and the space to write more.
When he refers specifically to the prophets he includes a great many individuals, yet in the following phrases we naturally think of Daniel and his friends. Daniel is the outstanding example of those who ‘stopped the mouths of lions’. His three faithful companions ‘quenched the violence of fire’. As to Daniel, no specific reference is made to the enormous contribution he made, under God, to our understanding of future events. Instead, Daniel and his friends take their places among the great personalities of the past whose faith in God was unshakeable.
CHRISTOPHER BRYANT observes, ‘The act of faith is more than a bare statement of belief, it is a turning to the face of the living God’. Faith is more than knowing about God. It is definitely more than our own thoughts about God. All true knowledge of God is based on what God has revealed to us about Himself. As young people Daniel and his friends turned to the face of the living God. They probably often expressed their belief and trust in God by repeating God’s words such as when He revealed His character to Moses, ‘The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, longsuffering, and abounding in goodness and truth’, Exod. 34. 6. They never lost their firm confidence in God even when the most powerful tyrants in the world turned against them. This was not a cold, formal trust in God, for they loved God wholeheartedly.
Faith in our present times
In our times there is no greater revelation of God than that which we see in the Lord Jesus. Paul sums up his own experience by referring to ‘the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ’, 2 Cor. 4. 6. One version reads, ‘Now God is shining in our hearts to let you know that his glory is seen in Jesus Christ’ CEV. We listen to the Lord Jesus, who said, ‘believe in God, Believe also in Me’, John 14. 1. One without the other is inconceivable.
JOSEPH FORT NEWTON stated, ‘Faith is a fire in the heart’. Faith is so much more than just a traditional, cultural knowledge of God. Faith sets the heart on fire with a passion for God. This is seen so clearly in Daniel and his companions. The heartbeat of one of the most important cities in the world, Babylon, never moved them away from their devotion to God. Today we know God in His Son, our Saviour. We sense that ardent passion in Paul when he writes about ‘the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord’, Phil. 3. 8, that is, the great, marvellous, priceless wonder of knowing Christ Jesus as Lord.
C. H. SPURGEON comments, ‘Faith is reason at rest in God’.2 This is surely true of these four young men. They continued to trust in God during the heartbreak resulting from a foreign invasion that devastated their lives, in the confusion of being transported to a world that they would soon realize was evil and even at the shock of arriving in Babylon where most likely no one knew or believed in God. By reasoning they did not obtain the answers to their many questions. Instead, they rested in God for God knows the answers. The poet Asaph, without knowing Daniel and his friends, captured their attitude correctly when he wrote, ‘I have put my trust in the Lord God‘, Ps. 73. 28. Faith is intelligent and responsible but it is not a prisoner of reason. Instead, ‘Faith is reason at rest in God’.
How does faith work in our modern world?
What practical impact did Daniel and his friends, all men of faith, have on Babylon? Did they basically change Babylon? No! When we come to apostolic times some scholars believe that Babylon, when mentioned in the New Testament, refers to Rome. It is true that Babylon persecuted Israel and Rome persecuted the church. In their respective times, both were unique world power centres. This was not true of the city of Babylon in New Testament times. It had long since lost its power and glory. Possibly in the last book of the Bible Babylon symbolizes all opposition to God already revealed in the history of the world in cities like Babylon and Rome. Today such symbols of the world’s opposition to God are multiplied around the globe!
Although the term ‘world’ has different meanings in the New Testament it takes on an undeniable aspect of evil, especially in John’s writings. Yet, it is also John who writes powerfully of God’s love for the world, ‘In this the love of God was manifested toward us, that God has sent His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him’, 1 John 4. 9. That God sent His Son into the world for our salvation indicates the depth of the divine love for the human race. In that love, we are to reach out to a world that is alienated and hostile to God with the message of His love.
At the same time, we are not to form alliances with the world. In the world we are to stand for truth and light. The world is alienated from God and projects an attitude of thought totally opposed to God. This means one cannot be committed to the world and to God at the same time. John affirms, ‘If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him’, 1 John 2. 15. Love forms unions. In that sense, we are not to love the world. The world that surrounds us is morally ugly, for ‘the whole world lies under the sway of the wicked one’, 1 John 5. 19. Daniel and his friends, and undoubtedly other Jewish exiles, were true witnesses for God in the world represented by the metropolis of Babylon. Paul and his fellow apostles, with many other Christians, were powerful witnesses for God in the Roman Empire. Were they a witness for God in an evil world? Yes! Did either Babylon in the ancient world or Rome in apostolic times ever change fundamentally for the better? No!
Demonstrating faith in a modern society
Daniel’s friends in the fiery furnace demonstrated that the God of Israel was greater than all the gods of Babylon put together - and there were many gods in Babylon! When Nebuchadnezzar saw the three men in the fiery furnace unscathed and walking with one ‘like the Son of God’, Dan. 3. 25, the king quickly declared, ‘Blessed be the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego, who sent His Angel and delivered His servants who trusted in Him, and they have frustrated the king’s word, and yielded their bodies, that they should not serve nor worship any god except their own God!’, Dan. 3. 28.
How do we react in the ‘fiery furnace’ experiences of life? Such times may involve employment among those who are not only non-Christian, but strongly anti- Christian, a family tragedy without any rational explanation, a serious church problem that leaves one devastated. In difficult times we move forward by faith in God. With confidence we say in our own way what Daniel’s three companions said before the king, ‘Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us’, Dan. 3. 17. In such experiences, we also walk with ‘the Son of God’.
Does our attitude impact those who are observing us? Did these men touch individual lives? Yes! Daniel and his friends by their lives and witness for God influenced powerful men in the ancient world. Daniel and his three companions undoubtedly aroused the interest of Nebuchadnezzar, the king of Babylon. When Daniel interpreted his dream, Nebuchadnezzar answered, ‘Truly your God is the God of gods, the Lord of kings, and a revealer of secrets, since you could reveal this secret’, Dan. 2. 47. There is little doubt that King Darius of the Chaldeans, Belshazzar of Babylon, and Cyrus, king of Persia were all impressed by Daniel and possibly by his friends (about whom we have little information). To be continued.
- Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations are from the Holy Bible, New King James Version, Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.
- The Westminster Collection of Christian Quotations, compiled by Martin H. Manser (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2001), p. 101f.
AUTHOR PROFILE: James Cochrane was commended to the Lord’s work in the Dominican Republic in 1950 and still visits there annually. He is well known throughout N. America for his oral and written ministry and comes to the UK for meetings every other year.