Develop Conviction

| Daniel 1:3-5; 8-20

The Point:  Live your life with uncompromising conviction.

Staying Dependent upon God: Daniel 1:3-5, 8-20.

[3]  Then the king commanded Ashpenaz, his chief eunuch, to bring some of the people of Israel, both of the royal family and of the nobility, [4]  youths without blemish, of good appearance and skillful in all wisdom, endowed with knowledge, understanding learning, and competent to stand in the king’s palace, and to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans. [5]  The king assigned them a daily portion of the food that the king ate, and of the wine that he drank. They were to be educated for three years, and at the end of that time they were to stand before the king. [8]  But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food, or with the wine that he drank. Therefore he asked the chief of the eunuchs to allow him not to defile himself. [9]  And God gave Daniel favor and compassion in the sight of the chief of the eunuchs, [10]  and the chief of the eunuchs said to Daniel, "I fear my lord the king, who assigned your food and your drink; for why should he see that you were in worse condition than the youths who are of your own age? So you would endanger my head with the king." [11]  Then Daniel said to the steward whom the chief of the eunuchs had assigned over Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, [12]  "Test your servants for ten days; let us be given vegetables to eat and water to drink. [13]  Then let our appearance and the appearance of the youths who eat the king’s food be observed by you, and deal with your servants according to what you see." [14]  So he listened to them in this matter, and tested them for ten days. [15]  At the end of ten days it was seen that they were better in appearance and fatter in flesh than all the youths who ate the king’s food. [16]  So the steward took away their food and the wine they were to drink, and gave them vegetables. [17]  As for these four youths, God gave them learning and skill in all literature and wisdom, and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams. [18]  At the end of the time, when the king had commanded that they should be brought in, the chief of the eunuchs brought them in before Nebuchadnezzar. [19]  And the king spoke with them, and among all of them none was found like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. Therefore they stood before the king. [20]  And in every matter of wisdom and understanding about which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters that were in all his kingdom.  [ESV]

“Can you imagine what it would be like to be exiled from your home to a foreign city, to be alone and scared, a long way from familiar surroundings? How would you cope in such a hostile setting? What truths could you cling to? Would you remain faithful to your former identity or simply be assimilated into your new surroundings? This is not entirely an imaginative exercise for us either. As citizens of heaven, Christians live as aliens and strangers in a land that is not their own, and there are times when the world’s enmity to the people of God becomes evident. The hostility of the world is often shown in the efforts it makes to squeeze us into its mold. It wants to make us conform to its values and standards and not to stick out from the crowd. The pressure is on us, in school and at work, to be like everyone else in the way that we dress and the language that we use. We are expected to laugh at certain kinds of jokes and gossip about certain kinds of people. We are expected to value the things the surrounding culture values, to pursue passionately its glittering prizes, and generally to live in obedience to its idols. We have to choose daily whether to be part of this world in which we live, or to take the difficult path of standing against it. How do you cope in the midst of the brokenness and alienation that is life here on earth? What truths can you cling to when the jagged edges of existence are twisting against you and cutting into your flesh? What do you need to know to live a life of faith in an alien world, a world that is frequently a place of sickness and pain, of broken relationships and bitter tears, of sorrow and death? These are the questions to which the Book of Daniel will give us the answers. It is a book written to God’s Old Testament people, Israel, when they were experiencing the brokenness and pain of life in exile, far away from home. It was designed to encourage them in their walk with God, who was with them in the midst of their pain.

Judgment and Hope [3-5].  To live faithfully in exile, we first need to know God’s faithfulness. This is not altogether as comforting a truth as you might imagine, since the first aspect of God’s faithfulness that we see in this chapter is God’s faithfulness in judgment. Judah’s exile from the land in Daniel’s time was not merely an accident of fate or the tragic result of the expansionist policies of imperial Babylon in the late seventh century B.C. As Daniel 1:2 makes clear, the exile came upon Judah because the Lord handed King Jehoiakim over to the power of Nebuchadnezzar. God gave His people into the hand of their enemies. Because of their persistent disobedience and rebellion against God over many generations, the Lord finally handed Israel over into the power of their enemies and so they went into exile. Yet the recognition that their fate came from the hand of God as a faithful act of judgment was itself an encouragement to the exiles. Their future was not controlled by Babylon, but by the Lord, the God of heaven [Dan. 2:19]. The one who had sent them into exile had also promised to be with them there, and ultimately to restore them from exile after a time of judgment. This is an important point. During its hardest moments, life often seems out of control. Our fate may sometimes seem to lie in the hands of hostile people, or in the outworking of impersonal forces of one kind or another. Yet the reality is that our every experience in this world, from the apparently coincidental at one end of the spectrum, to the determined acts of wicked men and women on the other, lies under the control of our sovereign God. No sinful act ever catches God by surprise or thwarts His sovereign will. Everything that we experience in life, no matter how difficult or apparently meaningless it may seem, is God’s purpose for us. For believers in Christ, each circumstance is the Lord’s means of furthering His sanctifying goals. He has not abandoned or forgotten us. On the contrary, He will walk through these trials and preserve us through them by His grace. So it was that in the will of God, Daniel and his three friends found themselves exiled in Babylon [6-7]. Daniel and his friends were probably still only young teenagers at this time, and in Babylon they were to be exposed to an intense program of reeducation. First, their very names were changed. The four young men were also instructed in the language and literature of the Babylonians, so that its myths and legends would take the place of the Scriptures as the source of their wisdom and worldview. Third, they were to be royally supplied from the king’s table, with a daily allowance of food and wine, so that they would become accustomed to a life of dependence on their new master. At the end of this three-year initiation process, with their previous identity fully obliterated, they would enter the service of Nebuchadnezzar.

Staying Dependent upon God [8-20].  At the same time the four friends accepted the will of God for their lives and served the Babylonian community, they also inwardly resisted the assimilation process of the Babylonian empire in a number of specific ways. In the first place, they resisted the total renaming program of the Babylonians. They didn’t refuse to answer to their Babylonian names, to be sure, but they did maintain their Jewish names and identities as well. They preserved their Hebrew names amongst themselves as a marker of who they really were; they lived with dual names as a reminder of their dual identities, and more fundamentally as a reminder of the true nature of their God. How can we learn from them and maintain our dual identity as citizens of two kingdoms? Surely one way is by taking every opportunity that we can to celebrate our heavenly citizenship with other believers. We need to take every opportunity to gather with our fellow exiles, so that we can remind one another of “home.” We cannot preserve our heavenly identity on our own: left to ourselves, the pressure of the world will inevitably crush us into its mold. But together we can help one another to keep the memory of heaven strong. This is done as the signs of the kingdom are displayed in our worship services, through the preaching of the Word and the celebration of the sacraments. As the Word is preached, a heavenly wisdom is proclaimed that turns counter to the wisdom of the world around us. The four young men also preserved biblical knowledge and perspectives in the midst of a thoroughly pagan educational system. This is a challenge that increasingly faces families in our community as well. However a family chooses to meet this challenge, each family needs to recognize the need to train their children not simply in an outward conformity to Christian morality but in a true countercultural Christian identity as citizens of heaven, living on earth. Wherever they are educated, our children need to know and understand the contemporary literature and language of the Chaldeans [4] and to be armed with biblical discernment into its follies and flaws. The second way in which the four young men resisted assimilation into the Babylonian system was that they resolved not to eat the food from the king’s table nor to drink his wine [8-16]. The issue here was not simply that the Babylonian food was not kosher – that is, prepared according to the Jewish dietary laws. Nor was the issue that the meat and wine had first been offered to Babylonian idols, for that would have been the case with the vegetables as well. The key to understanding why the four young men abstained from the royal food and wine is noticing that instead they chose to eat only those things that grow naturally – grains and vegetables – and to drink only naturally occurring water [12]. This suggests that the goal of this simple lifestyle was to be constantly reminded of their dependence upon their creator God for their food, not King Nebuchadnezzar. So also we need to build into our daily routines constant reminders of our dependence upon God for all of the good things in our lives. Even such a simple act as giving thanks for our food may be a profound reminder of who has provided it for us. Keeping a daily record of the Lord’s gifts to us, from the trivial to the profound, can be another way of keeping our eyes fixed on our Creator. The practice of fasting – deliberately choosing to abstain from some of the legitimate pleasures and satisfactions in this world – can also be a powerful means in which we too can remind ourselves that this world is not our home and that its gifts are not our real treasure. Omitting a meal and instead devoting the time to prayer is a potent way of keeping our eyes fixed on our true inheritance and our hearts longing for the true feast. Once again, though, Daniel and his friends sought to maintain their faithfulness to God by working within the Babylonian system, not against it. They sought permission from the chief official for their personalized diet plan [8]. The official was sympathetic to their request, but, like many government bureaucrats, he was also afraid of the potential consequences of bucking the system [10]. Yet at the same time his response was not an outright refusal of their request, so Daniel went further down the chain of command to the guard who looked after them and proposed a ten-day test. At the end of that trial period, he could evaluate their progress. Surprisingly, at the end of this time, Daniel and his friends looked fitter than those who had been indulging in a high-calorie lifestyle. So the guard agreed to continue to provide the four young men with the means for their alternative way of life, by which they could maintain their constant awareness of the one true God. God’s Faithfulness in Mercy.  The focus throughout this chapter is not simply the faithfulness of these four young men to their God, however. It is on God’s faithfulness to them. It was God who caused them to find mercy in the eyes of their captors [9]. What is more, the outcome of their dietary test was clearly not what ordinarily would have been expected: normally people don’t get fat on a simple diet of fruit and vegetables. This outcome too was a mark of God’s faithfulness to these young men, honoring their commitment to Him. In addition, it was God who gave all four of them exceptional knowledge and understanding of Babylonian literature and learning and gave Daniel the unique ability to discern visions and dreams of all kinds [17-21]. God’s favor upon them enabled them to answer all of Nebuchadnezzar’s questions, so that he found them ten times better than all of his other advisors [20]. God thus placed them in a unique position where they could be a blessing to their captors and build up the society in which they found themselves, while at the same time enabling them to remain true to Him in the midst of extraordinary pressures. We are perhaps so familiar with the stories of Daniel and his three friends that we may fail to realize what a remarkable work of the Lord’s faithfulness their testimony was. As a result, we miss the comfort and encouragement that we can gain from their lives. If the Lord could keep these young men faithful to Him in their situation, then He is surely able to keep us faithful to Him in our much lesser trials and difficulties. No matter how overwhelming our situation may seem, God is able to keep us through it. It is His work from beginning to end, and He will do it. We are reminded that God’s faithfulness proved sufficient for Daniel throughout the entire time of the exile. Babylonian kings came and went. Indeed, the Babylonians themselves were replaced as the ruling world power by the Medo-Persians in the person of Cyrus, yet God sustained His faithful servant throughout the whole time. In the same way, He is able to preserve us throughout the trials and tribulations that we face, no matter how intense they may be or how long they may last. When the world does its worst, God’s faithfulness is enough. God’s Faithfulness in Our Salvation.  There is one final note that we must not miss in all of this. The reality for most of us is that when we look at our lives, we find we are not like Daniel and his three friends. We are far more like the nameless multitude who were deported along with Daniel, who adopted foreign names, ate the king’s food, and altogether became like the Babylonians. In many respects, we are assimilated to the world system in which we live, and our futures are mortgaged to it. So if the message of this book is simply “Be like Daniel and all will be well,” then we might as well stop reading now. The more we get to know Daniel, the more we come to realize that we are not Daniels. The good news of the gospel, however, is not simply that God is faithful to those who are faithful to Him. It is that a Savior has come to deliver faithless and compromised saints like us. Our salvation rests not on our ability to remain undefiled by the world, but rather on the pure and undefiled offering that Jesus has provided in our place. Jesus Christ came voluntarily into this world, with all of its pains and trials. He endured far greater temptations and sufferings than Daniel did, or than we ever will [Heb. 4:15]. Yet he remained entirely faithful and pure until the very end, without spot or blemish, and grants the perfection of His obedience to all those who trust in Him by faith [1 Peter 1:19]. What is more, Jesus has already returned from His time of exile and now sits at the Father’s right hand in heaven. He has prepared our places there, and His presence there already is the guarantee that one day we will be with Him there as His people. The cross is the means by which God’s faithfulness redeems the unfaithful; the resurrection and ascension are the surety of our inheritance in heaven. Remind yourself often of this gospel. Fix your eyes on Jesus Christ crucified, raised, and exalted. He has not only pioneered the route home; He is the route home. Trust in Him and ask Him to work in you a true faithfulness. Ask Him to put you in places where you can be a blessing to your community. Be a breath of heavenly wisdom in your home, your school, your workplace. Be constantly dependent upon His sanctifying work, looking to Him to keep you faithful. Finally, long for the day when His heavenly kingdom will invade this earth and bring the fullness of your inheritance.”  [Duguid, pp. 3-16] 

Questions for Discussion:

1.         In what sense does every believer live in exile? Duguid writes: “To live faithfully in exile, we first need to know God’s faithfulness.” How do we grow in our knowledge of God’s faithfulness? How can we maintain a confident reliance upon His faithfulness in the midst of life’s struggles and difficulties? What lessons can we learn from Daniel concerning how we are to live and honor God in our secular culture?

2.         Why didn’t Daniel and his friends want to eat from the king’s table? What principle were they unwilling to compromise? How can we apply that type of commitment to principle in the way we live today in our secular culture?

3.         In these verses, how do you see God’s sovereign hand at work? How is He guiding and directing events to bring about His purposes in history? What assurances does God’s sovereign work give you?

References:

Daniel, James Montgomery Boice, Baker Books.

Daniel, Iain Duguid, REC, P&R Publishing.

The Message of Daniel, Ronald Wallace, Inter Varsity.