Spiritual gifting is an essential for service
All the natural talents in the world are insufficient for the work that God is accomplishing among men and women. Spiritual gifts are required and they, like natural talents, come from God as an expression of His grace. Paul writes, ‘But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift’, Eph. 4. 7. Paul is referring not primarily to the grace which brings to us salvation, but rather to the grace for service in the cause of the Lord Jesus. Gifts are essential in the furtherance of His cause among human beings. Possibly under the teaching of parents or Sabbath School teachers in Jerusalem, Daniel and his friends, as children, began seeking the kingdom of God.1
When we live for God and His righteousness, God supplies all that we require for serving Him in this world. Because Paul knew this by personal experience, he assures the Christians in Philippi, ‘My God shall supply all your need according to His riches in glory by Christ Jesus’, Phil. 4. 19.
Gifts are for the service of God
They excelled in their studies to the point that Ashpenaz, the officer in charge of recruiting candidates for service to king Nebuchadnezzar, noticed them. It was also true during the three years of studies in Babylon, for they completed their studies with the highest honours. Undoubtedly, ‘God gave them knowledge and skill in all literature and wisdom; and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams’, Dan. 1. 17. Another translation reads, ‘God gave these four youths great ability to learn, and they soon mastered all the literature and science of the time; and God gave to Daniel special ability in understanding the meanings of dreams and visions’. They mastered the Babylonian material but they never allowed it to influence their commitment to God. God supplied these young men in Babylon with all they needed, natural and spiritual gifts, in order to do His work.
As already noted, all gifts come from God. The God whom Daniel and his friends served was not outdated, He was not out of touch with what was going on in Babylon. Respectfully, Daniel and his friends were not like some religious groups that have locked themselves into a point in history totally divorced from the modern age in which they live. He also gave them wisdom, that is, a proper understanding of history from God’s point of view. Daniel’s prayer of thanksgiving highlights this, ‘Blessed be the name of God forever and ever, for wisdom and might are His. And He changes the times and the seasons; He removes kings and raises up kings; He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to those who have understanding. He reveals deep and secret things; He knows what is in the darkness, and light dwells with Him’, Dan. 2. 20-22.
Who was Daniel?
Daniel’s special gift of interpreting dreams and visions set him apart from his companions. This leads to a special question, ‘Who was Daniel?’ Technically, he was not a prophet, a priest or a king. In our modern ‘world vocabulary’ he was a politician and a civil servant. He was not a politician in a democracy, but he was very much involved in the intrigue of palace politics. People conspired against him. People lusted for his power. Many wanted him dead! He was a civil servant with the very highest responsibilities.
Daniel lived long before the Bible was complete. He would be familiar with the Pentateuch, some of the historical books, some of the Psalms and he had the writings of Jeremiah. Nothing in the book of Daniel indicates the young men had with them any of these writings when they were taken to Babylon. Reading the scriptures, something we take for granted, would not have been so easy for these young men. If we add to this the fact that Babylon was a nation without the knowledge of God, how could He speak to human beings?
How do we feel about dreams and visions? In ancient times, God, in a limited way as far as we know, communicated with a select number of human beings by means of dreams and visions. I would hesitate to look to dreams as the principal means by which God communicates with us today. The author of the letter to the Hebrews appears to recognize this, for he writes, ‘God, who at various times and in various ways spoke in time past to the fathers by the prophets, has in these last days spoken to us by His Son’, Heb. 1. 1. The book of Daniel indicates clearly that God also spoke at various times and in various ways to non Jewish individuals in ancient times. In that world, God spoke through these dreams and visions to powerful monarchs. Daniel explained, he expounded, the message of God to these kings.
This is the marked difference between Daniel and his three friends. While they were all highly trained scholars, ‘Daniel was gifted in understanding all sorts of visions and dreams’, Dan. 1. 17. It is implied that this difference between Daniel and his friends was attributable to God. God gifted Daniel in this special way. As JOHN GOLDINGAY comments, ‘the stress is on the excellence of what Daniel is given, which parallels the experience of Joseph and other patriarchs, and corresponds to the demands of the contexts in which Daniel has to function’.2
There is no evidence of any sense of envy on the part of Daniel’s friends. There is no boast on Daniel’s part that he was better than them.
Daniel, an example for our generation
Daniel is an exceptional example from the pre-Christian world of one who has an important message for our generation. His daily life in a foreign environment, a life which was in keeping with God’s character, a life pleasing to Him, and which produces fruits of good works for God’s glory. Daniel did this in his generation. How he lived in the secular world displayed the character of God. As a senior citizen in the times of king Darius, Daniel’s fierce opponents could not find, after close scrutiny, any opening through which they could bring to the king a legitimate complaint that would lead to his downfall. He was an example of what Paul would write about centuries later in a letter to the Christians in Asia. ‘You are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), finding out what is acceptable to the Lord … see then that you walk circumspectly, not as fools but as wise, redeeming the time, because the days are evil’. Again, life and ministry are intrinsically linked.
The effectiveness of gifting can be severely diminished
A life that is morally and spiritually in a state of disorder diminishes the effectiveness of gifts. Paul recognized that gifts abounded in the church in Corinth but they had lost their power because of what was being tolerated in the congregation and because of rivalries between those who had different gifts. Paul writes one of his longest letters to the Corinthians in which he itemizes their faults that led to spiritual immaturity. As gifts come from God they are to be exercised in a way that is consistent with his character. Daniel is a true example of one who displayed God’s character in his private and public life while, at the same time, exercising powerfully his gifts for God’s glory.
Daniel’s gifting and service comes into its own
Nebuchadnezzar’s completely out-ofthe- ordinary dream alarmed him. He apparently did not have a clear memory of the total dream and he knew it was not an ordinary dream. The king, apprehensive about the future of his own empire and sensing the dream had to do with it, desperately needed someone to interpret the dream to him. Deadly serious then, his wise men will all forfeit their lives should they fail him.
In the interpretation of the king’s dream, Daniel maintains that God controls history. This means that the wise men of Babylon were incompetent and unable to perceive future events. Daniel’s attitude is clear. The dream is a message from God and it anticipates God’s actions in world history leading to the just and final victory of God over the powers of darkness. Daniel, and only Daniel, explained the dream to the king. The king was fascinated and very pleased, bestowing on Daniel gifts and honours and promoting him to the extremely high position of governor of the whole province of Babylon. We wonder if the king was more enthralled by the fact that Daniel could recall the dream and expound it to him than he was by the message itself. The fact that shortly afterwards Nebuchadnezzar erected a golden image and demanded that all bow down and worship it would seem to indicate that God’s majesty and power had little effect on him. Nonetheless Daniel had an immense effect upon many. OSWALD CHAMBERS wrote, ‘The world is glad of an excuse not to listen to the gospel message, and the inconsistencies of Christians is the excuse’.3
The adversaries that surrounded Daniel and his friends in their times could not find such inconsistencies between the way they lived and worked and their confidence in God. There was a beautiful wholeness in their lives and, as a result, God, through them, made a tremendous impact for good in ancient Babylon.
The final issues lie with God, not men
Sometimes we may be tempted to feel that evil triumphs. How did Daniel’s three friends feel when king Nebuchadnezzar set up the golden image and demanded that they worship the idol? How did Daniel feel when king Darius prohibited prayer to any god, but to the god-king? How do we feel when governments approve laws that we feel, according to God’s word, are not right?
God’s will revealed through His word will prevail. Daniel and his friends knew they were not the final solution to the world of evil men. Instead, equipped by God to serve well, they shone brightly for God in the moral darkness of Babylon where they really were ‘ … a light to the Gentiles’, Isa. 42. 6. In personal piety they spiritually walked along ‘ … the Highway of Holiness’, Isa. 35. 8 on their way to a glory greater than anything this world offers and, temporarily, they checked the full expression of evil.
Let’s pray that a multitude of Christians so committed and so equipped will walk into this century glorifying God while waiting for the return of Jesus Christ, our Lord.
Unless otherwise noted the scriptural references are taken from the Holy Bible, New King James Version, Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. These are the Bible references as they appear in this article: Eph. 4, 7; Matt. 6. 33; Phil. 4. 19; Dan. 1. 3f, 17; cf. Holy Bible, New Living Translation, Original work copyright © 1996 by Tyndale Charitable Trust; Dan. 2. 19-22; Dan. 2; Dan. 1. 17, The Message: The Bible in Contemporary Language, Copyright © 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson; Ps 119. 11; Neh. 8; Acts 16. 9; Heb. 1. 1f, cf. TM; Col. 1. 9f; Eph. 5. 8- 16; Dan. 2, 3; Isa. 42. 6; 49. 6; 35. 8.
GOLDINGAY, JOHN E., Daniel, Word Biblical Commentary, Volume 30 (Dallas, Texas: Word Books, Publisher, 1998).
OSWALD CHAMBERS in EDYTHE DRAPER, Draper’s book of Quotations for the Christian World (Wheaton, Illinois: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.), No. 6064.
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