Adjusting to rapid change
Some settle in easily to change. Perhaps most do not adjust well to new and strange circumstances. I believe Daniel and his three friends adjusted quickly to life in Babylon. I am not suggesting immediately or even a few months. The intense three-year course of studies to which they were submitted was part of the process of adapting to a new environment. Within a few years they knew what Babylon was and they knew how they were to live and serve God in that very different world.
There were others who rose to prominence in ancient kingdoms
Nehemiah in Persia (now Iran) held the distinguished position of cupbearer to the king. This was an office of trust. Tasting the king’s wine, the cupbearer stood between the king and death. As a foreigner with a status probably not much more than that of a slave, for he was a captive, Nehemiah surprisingly was able to serve king Artaxerxes in this all-important capacity. It was unusual to say the least, for the office was ‘one of no trifling honour’. He also probably fulfilled other administrative responsibilities for the king, and in this position was in the good of the king’s complete approval.
Long before the times of Nehemiah, Joseph, sold as a slave by his brothers, was taken to Egypt. Through difficult years because he would not accommodate his way of life and faith in God to the immorality of Egypt, Joseph rose, according to most scholars, to a position of supreme authority under the Pharaoh.
Jonah was very reluctant to obey God and travel to the wicked city of Nineveh, the greatest capital city of the Assyrian Empire. We know very little of his actual witness in the city. We do know that the ordinary people believed the message from God that Jonah preached and that through the prophet himself or in some other way the divine message reached the king with very positive results.
Standing for God advanced these men rather than diminished them
God sent Joseph, Jonah, Nehemiah and others to serve in ancient Gentile kingdoms. They were committed to God and ready to die for their testimony to God. The pagan environment that surrounded them did not swallow up Daniel and his friends. In a centre of evil, they lived as men who believed in God. The Babylonians, beginning with the king, took note of these young men. At the end of the studies for the initial preparation for the king’s royal service ‘the chief of the eunuchs brought them in before Nebuchadnezzar … in all matters of wisdom and understanding about which the king examined them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and astrologers who were in all his realm’, 1. 18-20. The result was ‘they served before the king’, 1. 19.
Early spiritual preparation gave foundation to their later learning
These young men, as far as we know, had no previous experience in Jerusalem as administrators. In Jerusalem, they were young men, possibly only teenagers. They would be students under wise teachers who taught them both religious and secular matters and how they related to each other. Actually, the Israelite teachers did not differentiate between secular and religious issues, believing that true knowledge is the sum of both in harmony with each other. With that basic training their spiritual lives were formed. The studies in Babylon laid the foundation for their work under Nebuchadnezzar. They would continually be key administrators in Babylon.
Is it possible to live in a society indifferent to God and, at the same time, walk with God and live productive lives? It is possible. In Babylon these men excelled as administrators not only in the city of Babylon but also throughout the whole province of Babylon! It is difficult to determine how many years elapsed between the time the four young men graduated with honours from the three-year course of training and their assignment as administrators of the state of Babylon. The recorded story suggests that it was not a long period. The rise to prominence of these young men is primarily attributed to God. ‘As for these four young men, God gave them knowledge and skill in all literature and wisdom’, Dan. 1. 17. This does not in any way detract from the hard work these young men put into their studies. Someone has said, ‘God does not do for us what we can do for ourselves’. God was with them and blessed them!
Because God had their hearts Babylon did not consume them
These young men were not captivated nor enthralled or taken in by Babylon. They were not like the Christians in Ephesus many centuries later that left their first love for Christ. We are not certain as to how this happened but something lured the Ephesians in another direction with the result that their first love for Christ diminished in passion.
The hope of Daniel and his companions was firmly anchored in God, not in Babylon. They knew that evil was alive and active in it. They also knew then, as EDWIN A. BLUM has commented in recent times, ‘No government that consistently rewards evil and punishes good can long survive, because evil is ultimately self-destructive’. I suggest the rise of Daniel and his friends to prominence in the administration of state affairs in Babylon is a sad comment on the moral stature of the majority of the Babylonian administrators. These men were different.
It may be difficult for us to imagine what life was like in Babylon. Even a prominent television newscaster recently asked the question, ‘What has happened to moral values in our corporate leaders?’ Dishonesty, greed, violence and immoral sexual habits formed the world in which Christians in New Testament times lived and the words of Peter are right to the point, ‘For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men, as free, yet not using liberty as a cloak for vice, but as bondservants of God. Honour all people. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honour the king’, 1 Pet. 2. 15-17. This is a general comment on what our behaviour should be in the world where we live. The same principle governed Daniel and his friends as they lived in Babylon. Peter’s comments are so important that a translation, The Message, might help us grasp their significance, ‘It is God’s will that by doing good, you might cure the ignorance of the fools who think you’re a danger to society. Exercise your freedom by serving God, not by breaking the rules’, 1 Pet. 2. 15-16.
We note the key factors in their survival, spiritually
a) They were respectful to all – friends or enemies
Daniel and his friends are outstanding examples of this kind of life in an environment hostile to God. By treating everyone with dignity they put into practice Peter’s admonition, ‘Honour all people’. Nothing is stated that indicates, even under extreme pressure, that they failed to treat, even their enemies, with due dignity. When Nebuchadnezzar heard that Daniel’s three friends refused to worship the image he had made, he was filled with rage and fury and demanded to know why they refused to obey him. They answered the king wisely and firmly. They spoke to the king with respect and dignity. Their personal lives were in order, not in disorder.
b) They loved each other deeply
‘Love the brotherhood’, that is, your spiritual family. There is every reason to believe that these young men in Babylon respected each other and dearly loved each other and all those who believed in God. The New Testament reads, ‘Let brotherly love continue’. Whenever possible it is abundantly true that the close-knit Christian circle of family members and friends is a definite plus when living in the secular world. We are exhorted not to forsake ‘the assembling of ourselves together … exhorting one another and so much the more as you see the Day approaching’, Heb. 10. 25.
c) They feared or revered God
They stood in awe of God both because He is just and His justice is true and because He is love, a love that expresses itself with grace and mercy. ‘Honour the king’. In Babylon Daniel and his friends honoured the government. They were law-abiding citizens. They occupied positions of tremendous power in the great Babylonian empire. There is no criticism of their work. There is no accusation they used their positions for personal gain. Would to God we had more men of such character today in governments, in financial institutions and in large corporations. In Daniel’s time, he and his friends honoured the authorities, but they stood in awe of God. Christians stand in awe of God while, at the same time, they honour the government. As ‘new creations’ we live in this world in a way that is pleasing to God and demonstrate that God’s salvation deals fully and permanently with the problem of evil in human lives.
d) They had the vision to live in the knowledge that ultimate judgement belongs to God
In the closing pages of the Bible, there is a thunderous, powerful, overwhelming message of God’s wrath against evil. ‘Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God’, Rev. 19. 15. God Himself will tread the winepress that represents the furious wrath of the Almighty. The Lord Jesus will deal with evil finally and triumphantly. We are not to live in daily fear of evil. We, by the grace of God, know the Victor over evil. The Lord Jesus came so ‘that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage’, Heb. 2. 14- 15. Bishop Aulen writes: ‘I am persuaded that no form of Christian teaching has any future before it except such as can keep steadily in view the reality of evil that is in the world and go to meet the evil with a battle song of triumph’.
e) They knew there was a time to make a stand
Are there exceptions to this general pattern of respect for governmental authority? Yes! As we have already noticed, Daniel’s three friends would not bow down and worship the golden image made by the king. The message was clear, ‘You shall fall down and worship the gold image that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up; and whoever does not fall down and worship shall be cast immediately into the midst of a burning fiery furnace’, Dan. 3. 5-6. They were brought before the furious king and they respectfully stated their case. They would not worship the golden image.
Daniel would not refrain from his usual daily prayers to God. He knew his life was on the line, but God came first even if it meant he would be thrown to the lions. It must be stated again that these men did not respond with verbal or physical violence. Centuries later Peter again helps us when he writes on this subject, ‘And who is he who will harm you if you become followers of what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed … and do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled. But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defence to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear … for it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil’, 1 Pet. 3. 13- 17.
f) Preaching the wrath of God was not their calling
Daniel and his friends knew that evil would be punished. Yet what we know of their lives and testimony for God in Babylon indicates this was not the major emphasis of their witness. It certainly was in Jonah’s ministry in Nineveh. God’s judgement would arrive in forty days! The result was general repentance, for from the king down men and women turned to God for salvation.
Undoubtedly, there are times when the message of God’s wrath needs to be proclaimed. Most of us might be hard pressed to remember the last time we heard preached a message on God’s just wrath. Together with GEORGE WHITEFIELD, JONATHAN EDWARDS’ powerful preaching led to the Great Awakening in New England in the period 1734 to 1735. When Edwards preached the sermon, ‘Sinners in the hands of an angry God’, he had to stop the reading of his sermon because of the commotion caused by people crying to God for mercy. When Edwards completed his sermon a great number of listeners turned to God.
So there are moments in church history when, led by God, the message of divine wrath has turned multitudes to God. I suggest that Daniel and his three friends, by the way they lived, were proclaiming to the residents of Babylon, and later to those of other great kingdoms, that there is a life that transcends the shackles of sin. In our language, God sent ‘His only begotten Son into the world, that we might live through Him’, 1 John 4. 9. We are all called to display that life, a life that is pleasing to God and a life that is a powerful message to those who are lost in the hopelessness of sin. Daniel and his friends lived that message every day in dark Babylon, and we have need to live it even more in our even darker day.
To be continued
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